Why Yoga is a Broke-A** Business

The Yogi Muse

The Yogi Muse

This month the famed New York yoga studio, Virayoga, goes out of business because its owner, Yoga Superstar Elena Brower, could not make it work financially.

A moment of silence please.

There is also a blog circulating talking about five things you do not know about your yoga teacher, including the realization that despite thousands of dollars of education they are probably underpaid and don’t have medical insurance.

More silence please, and possibly bow your head.

How did we get to be such a broke-ass business? It was not an overnight journey, that’s for sure.

There is an interesting conundrum at the heart of yoga and that is it was a practice that was never designed to make money. It was invented to create enlightenment, and you know what they say, money can’t buy you love.

However, and let me be VERY CLEAR: Enlightenment cannot put food on the table or a roof over your head. If you are hit by a car or get sick, it will not pay for your medical bills. It just doesn’t. You might be happier about starving, but starve you will if enlightenment is your only source of income.

Years ago, before yoga was transported to the west, this conundrum was threatening to blow up the industry. In the 1960’s yoga was a dying art in India. Only the wealthy could afford to practice. Everyone else was busy trying to feed their families. It was a Brahmin pastime, sort of like flying your Gulfstream today. Not many people could afford it.

Mr. B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the great founders of the modern yoga movement, said at the time, “The west saved yoga.” Eastern yoga was injected with new cash and enthusiasm by the throngs of young people who flocked to India, and in turn, their money saved yoga.

If you look at some of the earliest adopters, such as Ram Dass, Beryl Bender Birch or even Baron Baptiste, most of them had additional jobs besides teaching yoga. Ram Dass, born Richard Alpert, was a tenured professor at Harvard. Birch was a full-time, paid trainer for various sports organizations including the U.S. Ski team. Baron was a personal trainer and private yoga instructor for the people who ride in their Gulfstream jets.

Not one was trying to survive by teaching for $5 a head.

I was saddened recently by Ms. Birch describing a health crisis in her book, Boomer Yoga, where she mentioned that she either didn’t have medical insurance, or it wasn’t sufficient to cover her injury.

If Beryl Bender Birch couldn’t afford insurance then WTF am I doing? Right?

It was in the midst of this soul searching that I had a conversation with a famous yoga teacher who sold her studio many years ago to travel internationally.

“You know yoga wasn’t always considered a path to get rich,” she said to me. “It used to be something that bored housewives did to stay out of the mall.”

Today, yoga is believed to be a lucrative career path. However, whereas a barista at Starbucks or a stylist at Floyd’s comes with benefits, yoga comes with none. You have to work hard for the money, save for your retirement without a company co-pay, and pay for your insurance.

The famous yogis travel almost every single weekend per month for workshops and festivals. These pay much more than teaching weekly classes. But it also takes a toll on your personal life, not to mention your health. It is not an option for those of us with children in school.

The not-so-famous local yogis teach up to 18 classes per week. I am not exaggerating. That is a lot of love to spread around. In my case, I simply do not have the energy to work a 60-hour week anymore.

I am going to say this in a way that is as non-judgmental as possible, but listen up: You may love yoga, but it may not be your dharma.  If you are the sole provider for a child, for example, and cannot provide healthcare, then you are not doing your dharma or your child any favors. That’s not judgment; that’s reality. That’s the reality I am facing as I have to find a way to pay for college.

While the blog about the underpaid yoga teachers has been making the rounds, I want to state that it’s not the only problem in our industry. It’s just a symptom of something gone awry.

Yoga is huge, HUGE. It’s a billion dollar worldwide phenomenon. And wherever there is the scent of money, thousands of people will follow. In my city there are more yoga studios than Starbucks, with hundreds of classes per day, and many are taught to less than 10 people (because lots of non-yogis have a job). I have joked that everyone is a yoga teacher, but here that’s pretty much true.

For example, I offered a retreat this year to Costa Rica, and there were four other retreats offered, at the exact same time, to the same place, leaving from Denver! That’s saturation.

While it sucks to be an underpaid and over-educated yoga teacher, I cannot even imagine how hard it must be to own a yoga studio. Elena Brower is one of those world-famous yogis with a book, videos and who has headlined lots of yoga festivals. I made the trek to Soho in New York to find her (the cost for transportation was more than the class).  But not many would do this. Most of us practice where it is close and convenient to our homes.

In addition, who pays full price for yoga anymore? We have become mired in a practice of giving it away for next to nothing on Groupon, Living Social and through summertime deals. We have conditioned our students to look for the discount. I have seen yoga sold for as little as $2.98 per class. How can you possibly pay a teacher $5 per head when you are only earning $3?????? People, this doesn’t make any sense.

So what the studios have done to survive, is offer more trainings. A Yoga Teacher Training will net the studio $2,000 – $4,000 per student. In the short-term, this will pay the bills. In the long term, it created a glut in the market. I know a very senior teacher who was ousted by her studio because a younger, newer teacher was willing to work for less. Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be. I am thinking of offering sexual favors to keep my job teaching a small select group of older yogis (really, just kidding).

And now, the yoga industry is taking the weekend warrior away from the local studios. The weekend practitioner is the local studio’s bread and butter. But now there is a yoga festival almost every single weekend. In fact, according to yogafestival.com, there are often up to five festivals in a single summer weekend.

If you don’t want to travel to a festival, then by all means, practice for free (or for next to nothing) in your nearby park or Lululemon store. In my city a recently free “Yoga Rocks the Park” event had 1,200 people attend. That’s $24,000 that went missing in fees to local studios. And even though those events often donate 10% to charity, that’s a pittance compared to what they make. They have almost no overhead. They usually don’t pay the teachers who do it for exposure. Blah blah blah. I am almost tired of my own rant.

Almost.

I want to end with this: We teach mindfulness to our students but the truth is that we have to be more mindful as an industry.

I don’t have a solution. But I am very conscious of how I spend my yoga dollars. Every. Single. One.

I practice at my local studios and I buy their stuff whenever I can. I attend one or two festivals a year where I take my yoga dollars outside of a studio (I’m not being judgmental; it’s just not my thing. I’m more of an introvert and practice yoga inward, not outward.).

I make exceptions in my pay for small studios that offer more personalized yoga, which could very soon be a thing of the past. I drive a long way to teach a small class of yogis who are looking for something unique, and that makes me happy if not rich.

At some point, the broke-ass teachers need to help the broke-ass yoga studios, and the festivals need to give back to the broke-ass communities. And the stores which offer free yoga to sell their clothes just need to stop. We are all in this together, and if we suck the life out of yoga, dollar by dollar, then there will not be an industry left to revive.

Michelle Marchildon is the Yogi Muse. She is an award-winning journalist and the author of Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga, and Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga. She is a Featured Columnist for Elephant Journal and a Contributing Editor for Mantra Magazine. She is an E-RYT 500 and teaches Hatha Yoga in Denver, Co. You can take her classes on www.yogadownload.com, or www.yogasteya.com.

178 Comments

  1. Flying Yogini on June 4, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Thanks for this straight up dope article Michelle. I agree 100%. Shared it with my Facebook group too because we are talking a lot about these kinds of topics. Thanks for continuing the conversation with some positive ways to support our community. As teachers and students we need to take ownership for what we love. kudos-Nancy

  2. kate on June 4, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    I’m nodding my head to this and like you, I’m not sure of the solution, but there’s certainly room to improve in our industry!
    Thank you!

  3. Michelleq on June 4, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Thank you so much for this honest and insightful article. I also enjoy your writing style. Nice work. I feel grateful for your contribution.

  4. Paula Johnson on June 4, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    I love this article in many ways, but for the most part…..we need to teach from our hearts….with love! When it becomes necessary to have 15 people to fill up your studio and pay the bills, it changes the very heart of yoga. I will never consider quitting my “real” job to teach only yoga because i want to keep it as a passion, not a way to pay my bills! Namaste Michele!

    • Michael Cutright on November 14, 2015 at 7:10 am

      I’m glad you’re passionate about teaching, but you and the legions of freshly trained yoga “teachers” are the reason most can’t make a living in this field. To all the hobby teachers out there, YOU DRIVE DOWN THE WAGE FOR EVERYONE ELSE, when you “only want to teach a little” or “for fun” or “as a hobby” you’re not going to barter for a real wage, and this devalues yoga, which we all know is incredibly valuable and anyone who dedicates their life to spreading their wisdom should be compensated fairly.
      We don’t have ashrams or churches like monks to all work together and cook and clean and live. We have rent and whole foods and a completely broken system that surrounds us and makes living incredibly hard in the first place.

      • Michelle Marchildon on November 16, 2015 at 7:49 am

        He there. Just to clarify. I’ve been teaching nearly 10 years and together with writing about yoga, it’s my full time job. Thank you.

        • Michelle on August 8, 2018 at 4:00 am

          Love this your article Michelle, so insightful and a good read. I’m pretty sure Michael’s reply is in reference to the comment above by Paula though and not suggesting you are a part time teacher and part of the problem. Not sure if you’ll see this, it’s an old thread and I’m rather late to the Party. 🙂

      • Tanja on April 2, 2016 at 5:43 am

        I am honestly quite a bit shocked about this comment. After all, even if you decided to make your living out of teaching yoga its your own decision. Like anyone elses to teach just a few hours. What leads you to think you own that kind of job? I mean teaching yoga has something to do with devotion, and something about what you want to give to your stundents. Really, if you cant find your students, if you don´t have your followers, maybe than you are not such a great teacher at all and should think about earning your money elsewhere?
        Or why than don´t you think about building some kind of community or an ashram like thing in your hometown? In the end, like Michelle wrote, dharma does not pay your life. Dharma is about finding your lifes purpose, which has sometimes nothing to do with incoming money. So before beeing agressive to other teachers, think about your own inspiration and decision to become a full time yoga teacher…

        • SabS on October 19, 2017 at 8:01 am

          Tanja, I think that’s not the point. There are awesome(!!!!) yoga teachers out there. But: you won’t find them on instagram or posting in social media. And that’s where the dilemma starts. Our society nowadays is all about celebrities and fancy yoga wear, an extraordinary studio location and as the offer is so big they hop the studios going for best price and often glamour. They want to be part of it. Studio owners invited “celebrities” for workshops and classes because this is how they attract students and earn some money. Their expensive mat, towel, cloths, etc. which yogis show up with will not do the postures for them and won’t make them better human beings. All needs to be fancy, shiny, “powerful”. They think they can fake it from the outside instead of turning inwards and finding out they have it all within themselves. That’s what good teachers are about, to be able to inspire students to go new paths and why it is worth it. New yoga-teachers popping out of trainings mostly fulfill mainstream needs. Turns out some of them need years to pay off their training fees. The only hope is that the market will change. That those who think yoga is just a trendy excersise will make a U-turn to look inwards and make them want more than “just physical movement” , finally , hopefully ,before they stop their practice.

      • kitty on September 27, 2017 at 6:04 pm

        Exactly!

  5. Elizabeth Haynes on June 4, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    So true! So so true. I stopped teaching last month and I may never go back. I was so disillusioned by all of the things you wrote about.

    • Kristin on June 8, 2014 at 4:41 pm

      Yup, me too. I taught for 4 years and absolutely loved it. And was a pretty damn good teacher. As a single parent with an intense “real” job, I had to quit teaching – I thought temporarily – but it’s been 8 months now and I also may not teach again. Receiving $35 for 3 hours of my time (30 minutes before class, 30 minutes after class, a 90-minute class, and travel time) for teaching on a weekend day where I was often scrambling to find childcare just wasn’t worth it anymore. And I usually paid my sitter more than I made! Sigh. Not only am I not teaching, but now that I have to pay for yoga, I’m not practicing. And teacher trainings, where the lead trainer sometimes only has one year of teaching under their belt! Crazy. A recipe for injuries and for students leaving the practice in droves. Also feeling disillusioned with the industry. I hope there is a fix. Thank you Michelle, for starting this conversation. Namaste.

      • Suzanne on April 1, 2016 at 6:15 am

        The great thing about yoga is that it is free. Once you have knowledge of the basics, you can do it at home on the floor in any type of comfy clothes!

      • Chantale on April 2, 2016 at 1:17 am

        I don’t think that yoga and industry should go together. A ” yoga industry” is a contradiction in terms.

  6. Milan on June 4, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    Thanks for saying it so well! Luckily I don’t have to rely on this for my sole income….otherwise I wouldn’t even be able to afford a bed to all my own. Right now – I derive happiness from being able to help a few people 🙂

  7. Serina on June 4, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    AMEN! Thank you. I know too well the hardships of owning a studio. The daily deals are killing our industry. It is almost impossible for someone to stay loyal to a studio when unlimited yoga is being offered at 10 different locations. I wish there was a way for studios to unite and not have to do “deals” in order to solve a short-term problem. I have also seen studios go under because of these deals….filling the rooms, entitlement, and zero loyalty. Moving on to the next deal, because….well, they can. Great read, sistah!

    • Dana Baptiste on June 6, 2014 at 11:43 am

      As a studio owner, and as someone who HAS done a discounted deal, I will say that you are right on. I will never do another one, and we as studio owners in my city have all decided together to not do them. They devalue our offering; they create competition where none need exist, and they invite yoga practitioners to just taste test every studio in town but rarely do any of these people actually establish the yoga practice we are all hoping they will establish.

      The revolution has to start with all of us as owners seeing each other as supporters, rather than competition. We are all in the same boat; we are all struggling to keep our doors open, so what if we joined forces and supported each other? Even close one studio to merge two together because the market really is too saturated? How much are we willing to give up to keep our offerings out there?

      I’d love to be a part of a coalition that supports keeping LOCALLY OWNED Yoga studios in business; that could begin with a simple agreement to NOT offer coupons.

      I just know that we are all in it together and we should stop trying to take each other down. When a studio closes its doors, shouldn’t we mourn the loss, not celebrate that now another corporation come in and take our hard work and minimize it?

      I do mourn the loss of Elena Brower’s studio. Thank you for this article.

      • Michelle Marchildon on June 6, 2014 at 2:02 pm

        I am in awe of the conversation started here. This is what I meant about our industry becoming mindful.

      • Stay Loose on June 7, 2014 at 12:56 am

        I wholeheartedly agree. However, yoga studios enter into questionable legal territory if they are agreeing to not continue the practice of discounting. That is tantamount to price fixing. You can get into big trouble. Check with your lawyers. Good luck and be careful.

      • Bob B. on June 11, 2014 at 1:50 pm

        Now there’s a yoga alliance I can get behind! Until then the YA is BS.

        • Sarah on October 3, 2014 at 3:59 pm

          I have wondered for YEARS what the Yoga Alliance is for. I buy into it because that’s where I can get grouped into a fitness and wellness insurance, but other than that, WHAT?
          Does Yoga Alliance really follow up with the registered schools that they are fulfilling the protocols for teacher trainings? No.
          If you are injured or harassed or given a class by an irresponsible yoga teacher, who do you report it to… Yoga Alliance? No.
          Is Yoga Alliance looking out for the “independent” yoga teacher who gets screwed on taxes year after year because the studio owner won’t list them as an employee, even though they are an employee? NO.
          So WHAT does the yoga alliance do?

          • Gwen on November 6, 2015 at 4:41 pm

            NOTHING!!



          • Susan on June 4, 2016 at 4:18 pm

            You don’t need YA for anything, not even insurance. For years I’ve purchased comprehensive coverage at a competitive price from http://www.yogichuck.com. I feel better not giving any of my $$ to a useless organization.



  8. Kellie on June 4, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Hi Michelle,

    First, thank you SO MUCH for sharing this.

    Second, thank you for being bold enough to put it in black and white in the first place.

    I agree with you 100% and have stated similar viewpoints –only to be publicly harassed and bashed on social media by former friends. As an industry, it seems we are mired in a poverty mindset with no foresight and introspection.

    My hope is that leaders (like you!) can help turn the tide, open others’ eyes to this reality and create innovative solutions to the conundrum.

    Namaste – and I mean it!

    Kellie

    P.S. You are one of my writing and yoga Sheroes and I look forward to seeing how this conversation unfolds.

    • Carrie on June 4, 2014 at 5:56 pm

      Kellie- I love your word “Sheroes” 😀

  9. Tina Bindon on June 4, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    Loved this read Michelle! I too have been saddened and angry about the ‘business’ of Yoga and the bottom line. I try to action what I believe by voting with my feet (or mat in this case)….supporting local teachers or studios, educating my students about quality, time, care and connection and the ‘experience’ of Yoga not just the doing of it. I refuse to compete on price and focus on a fair exchange of value. Yes, I don’t have huge numbers in my classes but the people there gain a great deal from the experience as do I and I know they can feel the lessons, dedication and sharing.

    Thanks for writing this….it was hilarious too by the way…I love your straight forward voice in your words. I found myself laughing out loud in several places! Blessings and light to you…keep shining!

  10. Carrie on June 4, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    I absolutely agree about the undervaluing of Yoga by our industry. Yoga is mental, physical, and spiritual therapy in so many ways, and is therefore exceptionally valuable. Just like any valuable, necessary service, Yoga also should be available to all. For that reason, I believe there is so much room for creativity when it comes to teaching and practicing in a sustainable manner. For instance, teaching highly specialized, customizable 1:1 sessions as well as free offerings, articles, etc. Thanks so much for your insight and dialogue!

  11. gene on June 4, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    Whoo weee hit it right on the head Michelle, so true just when you get to know teacher and enjoy offerings, bang things change, always been courious who can afford those expensive retreats. That is why I am working on ranch to offer true affordable retreat.

  12. George DeStefano on June 4, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    In the gold rushes, the prospectors worked themselves to death and the outfitters, grocers, laundry service owners and saloon owners got rich. Seems to the same deal here.
    It might be time to turn away from mass market yoga and begin to cultivate students who are willing to pay for one to one or small group tutoring and guidance.

  13. Tracy Carruth on June 4, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    I have been a studio owner for 10yrs, your article is absolutely true for me!
    Deep Love and Thanks for sharing!

  14. Andrea on June 4, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    Totally agree. What frustrates me is that the successful studios seem to have an endless supply of marketing money to throw around, they come up top on any Google search – and get even more students! In most cases, the people behind these enterprises aren’t yogis, but savvy business men who just know how to make a quick buck.

    We’ve just completed a non for profit project that gives smaller places a platform: The BEST of YOGA Melbourne guide is based on 6 months of research as well as hundreds of classes and interviews with yogis to find out where the great (but not well-marketed) classes in the city are.

    We paid for all our classes and didn’t accept freebies for positive reviews. We’ve done it because we’re passionate about sharing great yoga spots often overlooked in Google because they don’t have SEO managers, they don’t pay for ads, flyers etc.

    The guide is online for free here: andrealeber.com. Any feedback highly appreciated!

    Andrea

    • Kasi on September 25, 2017 at 10:30 am

      Indeed, I know of at least one studio here in Miami who has tremendous backing from savvy business men who know how to make a quick buck. I have more or less given up on going to a Yoga studio to practice any longer, due to the high fees now anywhere from $17-25 a class. When I first started my yoga journey here in South Florida back in the early 1970’s classes were only $5 due to these prices I was able to attend more classes and received much more benefit than paying $17-25 and only perhaps going once or twice a month to a class. Throughout my earlier years I was lucky to have exceptional teachers consequently I am very grateful for their teachings, through their knowledge I am able to practice my yoga at home with all the yoga tools/toys at my disposal and I am able to stay in the asanas for much longer periods at a time to reap the benefits rather than attending a class in a studio which may have too many students for the “teacher” to be able to help in particular if a student has special needs. – Miami Yogini

  15. Chris on June 5, 2014 at 6:32 am

    An outsiders perspective:

    You seem to assume that teaching yoga should be a well-paying job. An RYT-200 costs about the same as a semester at community college and requires about half as much time. It is a skilled entry level job, and it’s one like teaching or working for a non-profit in which it is assumed that you do the job for love as much as for money. You talk about teaching 18 classes a week being a 60/hr a week job. I’ll give you 20 minutes before and 20 minutes after each class, assume the class is an hour and 20 minutes. Which means teaching 18 classes a week is 36 hours of work, and as a skilled entry level job you could expect to make $10-15/hour, $15-20 in a major city. You are an independent contractor trying to establish your own as a yoga teacher, meaning you should expect to spend 10-15 hours unpaid doing your own marketing, skill enhancement, business related paperwork, etc. and you will be paying for your own insurance for several years (thank goodness for the ACA, right?)

    If you have 3-4 years full time experience (meaning you have taught about 3000 yoga classes), it would might be reasonable to assume that you have both talent and skill (mediocre teachers will probably quit or teach so few classes they’ll never make to to 3000 classes). You are now “mid-level” and can expect to make a median income- about $40k per year with a full time job* (working off #s for an associates degree education, more than an RYT-500). If we assume 20 classes per week, and 7 weeks off per year (generous), that’s 900 classes a year or $45/class- according to your $5/head theory that means you need 9 students per class. Which seems like pretty reasonable # for an experienced teacher at an established studio.

    As I said, yoga teachers by the current model are entrepreneurs, which means some will do much better than earning a median income after a few years. You might have 20 students per class and be making $100 a class or $50/hour (more than median salary with a doctorate degree). The very successful will have a share of their studios, and/or will get to travel to festivals and conferences expenses paid.

    If you want yoga teachers to be well respected & highly paid, I’d recommend a training criteria around the level of a master’s degree: 3000+ hours of face time, 3000+ hours of independent study, 500+ hours of unpaid internship. This is what therapists, acupuncturists, most religious leaders/counselors require and seems to be the level of “prestige” you think yogis deserve.

    * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_income_in_the_United_States

    • Michelle Marchildon on June 5, 2014 at 7:19 am

      Hi Chris,

      Nice math, and for the most part I think it is fairly accurate. One thing to point out, though, is that if a yogi teaches 18 classes per week, with a 20 minute check-in and some time to say goodbye to her students, then how does she get to the studio? Magically? Most teachers have to drive or ride their bike, or use some other transportation. 18 classes is not working for 40 hours. It translates to a lot of running around to studios all over a town.

      Secondly, I believe teaching yoga is a perfect second income profession. The summer slow down and during holiday times makes it very difficult to count on income year-round. That is the problem. With today’s economy and job prospects, many new teachers are expecting yoga to provide a full-time income, and I don’t believe the current industry is able to do that unless we make some changes in how we market and support yoga.

      Lastly, as I wrote, I personally teach because I love my students, and I am able to change lives. If I want prestige, I tell people I am a writer, the author of two books, and a columnist for various media. I leave out the part that it’s all about yoga.

      Michelle

      • Erin on June 5, 2014 at 10:29 am

        Also, many teachers spend hours preparing each class. Granted, if I’m teaching multiple classes per week, I may use similar themes and sequences in my classes that week, but it’s not like I just show up and make something up on the fly. Add to that my own reading, study, and personal practice each week. Yes, it’s a good thing we love yoga!

        • Michelle Marchildon on June 5, 2014 at 11:48 am

          Yes Erin. I spend a lot of time preparing my classes. If you want to shorten that time and still create meaningful classes, check out my book, “Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga.” Shameless plug, but whatever.

    • Brandi on June 5, 2014 at 11:03 pm

      Great reply Chris, I think you make a lot of valid points.

      Michelle I just wanted to correct one of you points in your article – which I do think is very well written and I also agree with a lot of what you say from the teacher, studio owner perspective. The part however about the recent Yoga Rocks the Park event is Denver is incorrect – that is NOT a free event. Tickets cost from $15-$20 (standard for a drop in class in most cities), we pay our (hand selected) teachers very well, as well as work with local musicians, DJs, bands whom we then work with to get their music played and sold worldwide through various distribution networks; we also work with local yoga studios and wellness businesses in the community to continue to bring the community together and encourage supporting each other. If you couldn’t tell, I work with the company and I just do not want to wrong information out there.

      Thank your for expressing your thoughts and sharing them with the world. 🙂

      • Michelle Marchildon on June 6, 2014 at 6:28 am

        Dear Brandi,
        The Yoga Rocks the Park on June 1, 2014 in Denver was a free event. You can check your records. Also, if you pay your teachers, that’s great. I was never paid for my time that I donated to several of your events, not that it matters. Lastly, I believe that Yoga Rocks the Park is a great, community-building event that probably introduces new students to yoga, and therefore overall builds the market. However, on any given summer weekend there are multiple opportunities for students to take free yoga, so if the studios seem empty, that could be a contributing factor.
        Smiley face,
        Michelle

        • Jennifer on June 9, 2014 at 7:45 am

          Michelle,

          I am also writing in defense of Yoga Rocks the Park and your claim that we make lots of fun and don’t pay people fairly. Our events have thousands of dollars of overhead and we do not make the profits that you are referring to. Due to city requirements, we pay hundreds of dollars for the park permit, portable toilets, an onsite police officer hired from the city of Denver, sound equipment, sound technician, staff, tents, banners, flags, advertising (in local resources), iPads for ticketing, wifi, credit card machines, talent, and the list goes on. We did not make a penny on the recent free day you are referring to and “lost money” but gained so much more. That event was about exposing new yogis to the practice, supporting the gathering of community, and facilitating a sense of connection. We strive to support local businesses’ and encourage people onto their mat for a playful practice with the hopes that one day they will take it to the next level and visit your class or home studio. Please feel free to reach out to me to “fact check” related to Yoga Rocks the Park in any city, at any time.
          Namaste ~ Jennifer

          • Michelle Marchildon on June 9, 2014 at 8:20 am

            Yo Jennifer,
            I don’t believe that anyone makes lots of money in this business. Really. That’s why I say it’s a broke ass business. But if you want to share how little you make, please be my guest. It will prove my point.

            Meanwhile, to clarify, I’m not against “Yoga Rocks the Park.” I’m not against “free” yoga. What I ask is that we come together as an industry to decide how often and how many free events actually benefit spreading the word of yoga and assisting those who cannot afford it. And how many start to dilute our market and train our students to look for the free rather than support a studio. That’s all. I’m asking for a little mindfulness as we go forward, and perhaps I’ll add less reactiveness to the list as well.



          • Aiesha Teague on June 9, 2014 at 12:44 pm

            It is true Yoga rocks the Park doesn’t pay its teachers and make false claims of giving advertising. They charge $12/child and almost $17 per adult and ONLY donate 10% to not sure which local causes



          • DoctorYoga on June 18, 2014 at 1:01 pm

            Michelle, it’s illegal for people and businesses to engage in price fixing which is what you are suggesting by people and businesses coming together and being mindful about what should be free and what should not be free. The law requires that each person or business independently decide that for themselves.

            If I decide not to join your group of mindful people and choose to offer lots of free yoga classes and free yoga events, how could other studios or teachers stop me?

            Is it objectively bad for everyone if I do that, or is it bad just for the teachers and good for the students?

            If I decide to turn my medical practice into a free clinic, is that an objectively bad thing? If not, how is this different from offering free yoga?



          • Michelle Marchildon on June 18, 2014 at 2:50 pm

            It is illegal for multiple businesses to agree to a price, but it’s not illegal to be mindful and aware of our actions.



          • Michelle Marchildon on June 19, 2014 at 10:33 am

            Dear Doctor Yoga,
            Although I am not obligated in any way to answer your questions, not morally, legally or ethically, I will. But it’s only my opinion. You seem to think I am the Grand Arbiter of All Things Yoga. Which I’m not. I am just a mom in Denver. But here goes, one mom’s opinion, which is as valid as say, another person’s opinion.

            Your Question #1: “If I decide not to join your group of mindful people and choose to offer lots of free yoga classes and free yoga events, how could other studios or teachers stop me?” My answer: Obviously, no one could stop you. So, you say that’s not rhetorical? Really?

            Your Question #2: “Is it objectively bad for everyone if I do that, or is it bad just for the teachers and good for the students?” My Answer: It is only “good for the students” if the quality of your offering is “good.” If you offer unsafe, uninformed and sucky aerobics yoga, and people get hurt, then I’m thinking it won’t be that good for the students. I hope that any offering, especially free offerings, are high-quality and sound teachings that are anatomically safe and philosophically sound. If your intention is to make life “bad for the teachers” don’t worry. It’s already pretty bad for the teachers. If your intention is to make life “good for the students” then it’s up to the quality of what you offer them.

            Your Question #3: “If I decide to turn my medical practice into a free clinic, is that an objectively bad thing? If not, how is this different from offering free yoga?” My answer: First, what is your obsession with being “objective?” What does that even mean? My opinion will not be as “objective” as your opinion. In fact, if I had a lot of time, we could talk about whether the words “opinion” and “objectively” even belong in the same sentence, objectively speaking of course. But back to the answer: If you turn your medical practice into a free clinic, that is entirely your decision. I don’t know what effect it would have on the free market of medicine. I know if I needed a splinter removed, I might go to your clinic. But if I needed brain surgery, I would probably seek out someone seemingly more qualified, perhaps by using Yelp (that was a joke). If you take your argument another step, if all medicine is provided for free, and if it costs $500K and 10 years to become a doctor, and if doctors weren’t compensated by the government but only by their free clinics, I’m thinking the future of medicine looks pretty bleak. Again, there are many free options for yoga. I don’t think that yoga is brain surgery, and I don’t think that the right to free and affordable yoga is either in the constitution or needs to be mandated by law. All I’m asking is that we be mindful of how we present and manage our business. If it costs $2,500 to be trained in yoga, and there is no chance to be paid anything for your investment, then only the wealthy will pursue the study. And we’ll be exactly where yoga was in 1960. Right before it was about to die out from lack of people able to study and pursue it.

            On the other hand, I do believe that most people teach yoga because they love it, as I do. I help people everyday, as yoga helped me. While I am compensated, it is not much, but it is enough both to keep me in it, and to keep my studios open. And the free market aspect keeps many good people involved in the business of yoga who would not otherwise be able to provide this service.



          • DoctorYoga on June 18, 2014 at 3:48 pm

            What does your response of being “mindful and aware of our actions” mean in terms of accomplishing your goal of reducing the number of free classes without violating the law?

            You also didn’t answer my three questions, which were not rhetorical.



      • Marlene on July 1, 2014 at 3:17 pm

        Unfortunately, although I am in full support of the “concept” behind Yoga Rocks The Park” I have recently been left with a very sour taste in my mouth, following their Boston edition.

        After being contacted to instruct the children’s aspect of the event for a 6 week series, upon requesting confirmation of my payment status for the first 3 classes I taught, I was told that there was an “issue” with accounting and have been waiting to be paid since then. Funny how the “issue” popped up when I inquired about my payment, there had been no mention of an issue prior to that.

        For myself, I agreed to become involved with YRP because I thought it was a great way to connect with the community via yoga. I teach kindergarten during the school year and offer yoga workshops / private lessons, so this just seemed like a perfect fit and a great way to network as well.

        It certainly wasn’t something I was doing just for the money, as I agreed to teach for a small percentage of what I would normally charge for group classes but the fact that the organizer didn’t see fit to pay me as we had agreed just isn’t proper and totally goes agains what events like these are suppose to do… which is bring people together.

        Yoga being a broke ass industry can partially be attributed to those who feel it’s alright to swindle others for services.

        • Michelle Marchildon on July 2, 2014 at 8:27 am

          I have heard from many, MANY teachers who were not paid. I have firsthand knowledge of not being paid, so when YRTP says they pay all their teachers, then those checks must still be in the mail. I hope this changes their policy and they start to pay everyone fairly. But most of all, I hope we as a community and an industry start to consider how much free and inexpensive yoga we offer, and how we are robbing our own classes and studios.

    • kitty on September 27, 2017 at 6:22 pm

      Although you’ve done your version of the math, it’s not realistic. There are only only so many “Prime Time” hours and days for teaching Yoga with an average of nine students. And with a yoga studio every three blocks and four gyms in between the students base is diluted even for the great teachers. As a beginning teacher 30 years ago right out of a three year teacher training, I built my prenatal class up to an income of $150-175. a class, with 17-25 students. My employer quickly cut my pay scale in half. This continues to happen 20 years later I worked for $5-10 at a 50/50 split for a year, built my class to making $50-75. After two paychecks, my employer a different one cut my pay scale again in half. You make a lot nod assumptions here, but I don’t think you have taught yoga much or for long. I could continue but this makes one point of saturation and we don’t have pay contracts nor do the employers now owning yoga studios see their teaches as an thing more than replaceable by a younger person willing to work for little money.

  16. Kat on June 5, 2014 at 7:15 am

    Genius. Somebody had to say it and you did, beautifully and in satya. The industry is wrestling with major issues: all the ones you have outlined here, “certification” with Yoga Alliance, competition between teachers and studios for market share. Thanks for initiating the conversation.

  17. Supermarket Yogi on June 5, 2014 at 7:47 am

    Guess what, I make $10.50/hour working at a a very nice grocery store, have 3 kids, and I can’t afford insurance or college either. Without the deals, yoga in a studio setting would not be accessible to me.

    I don’t agree that deals do not breed loyal customers. I started at my studio with a groupon, then bought their “christmas present deal,” then bought their “spring fling deal,” then bought their “summer special,” then paid $3000 to attend yoga teacher training because I wanted to learn more, more, more! And oh yeah, I also bought your book!

    Full price classes at my studio are $15/class and I pay, on average, somewhere from $6-$10 per class through these deals.

    My classmates from teacher training who are teaching are getting paid $30-$50/class–this is after offering those free classes in the park, Lululemon and Athleta, taking those 6 am shifts, and doing the $5 community yoga, which, if 10 people show up, and they go 50/50 with the studio, also yields more than twice what *I* make.

    My teachers walk around cueing music from iPhones, wearing $150 lululemon outfits, get $30 pedicures every week (I have never had one), and practice on $70 mats (mine cost $20).

    I don’t want to–and can’t– pay $15/hour to support someone else’s yoga lifestyle when it appears that lifestyle is all about TRENDY STUFF.

    I think you’re on the wrong track with your plan of how to get make teaching yoga viable. EVERY small business is financially risky. EVERY self employed worker bee has a hard time affording insurance. These are the tradeoffs of living a life outside of corporate America (and sometimes, like me or the Walmart workers, in corporate America). The area where you live is definitely saturated. But charging the maximum and cutting out people like me from the studio yoga experience is not the answer.

    A year long yoga membership at my studio–just for me– costs about the same as a membership to the YMCA (which also offers daily yoga) for MY ENTIRE FAMILY. This just isn’t right.

    Perhaps if these memberships were more affordable, more people would buy them, and then more classes would fill. Perhaps if you offered something in between a 2 hour workshop and “YOGA TEACHER TRAINING” you would find an entirely new market to tap into for income.

    Perhaps if more teachers were more about yoga itself and less about taking pictures of themselves (Sorry, I mean hiring professional photographers to take pictures of them) in balancing poses out in nature, more people wouldn’t scramble on to the next studio with the next deal.

    Perhaps if every yogi voted the right way to make insurance accessible for ALL people, and college accessible for ALL families, things would work themselves out.

    Authenticity is the only thing you need to worry about. That goes for me too.

    • Michelle Marchildon on June 5, 2014 at 9:11 am

      Dear Supermarket Yogi,
      Thank you so much for your perspective. I love that you practice yoga with all that you have going on in your life. At $10.50 per hour, you make about as much as the typical local yoga instructor (considering it takes 2 hours to teach a 1 hour class, with check-in, etc). I have always wished there were more stipends, or systems in place for people who want to practice but simply can’t afford it. At one studio where I work, they accept donations for classes, so you can pay what you can, no questions asked. Unfortunately, I once had a man wearing a Rolex watch ask to pay the donation, but whatever. He might have come on hard times. You never know.

      So thank you again, for keeping the conversation real. Most of us, including myself, teach not for getting rich but for the love of it. My husband has asked me to get a “real” job for years now, and it breaks my heart to think of leaving yoga. But I must help out with upcoming expenses for my children. I have a few years to figure this out. Thank you again. I hope I meet you in person, on the path.
      Michelle

  18. Sarah on June 5, 2014 at 8:31 am

    Thank you for this sad article. I am thankful that I do not need to earn a living teaching yoga. I charge competitive rate for my classes, but if only a couple show up, I can give a good experience to them and have a good teaching experience myself.

    The sad truth was expressed to me recently by a friend who is a wonderful teacher following an experience with Groupon. He said that he signed up for a Groupon and got a bunch of money right away. After the Groupon, he had no students, so he signed up again. After the third Groupon, he would have had to close his business if he hadn’t had another job. That was enlightening. The problem with Groupon (and similar discount programs) is that you never get out from under and eventually they do kill your business because students mostly follow the discounts. . .

    I wish I could construct a way we could take action about this.

  19. Kristen on June 5, 2014 at 9:06 am

    Thank you Michelle, your honesty and insights are always appreciated.

  20. Kellie Jean Codianna on June 5, 2014 at 10:37 am

    This is the most REAL truth I have read lately! SAT NAM to being REAL….

  21. Elena Brower on June 5, 2014 at 10:54 am

    Michelle.

    Thank you so much for the mention. Yes. Virayoga served the NYC yoga community for 12+ years… Wow. We were fortunate to have been consistently profitable – but when the landlord raised the rent again, we chose to close.

    There were also significant personal reasons for me: I am so ready to focus more on my son, to chaperone school field trips and cook more of his meals with all of my attention rather than half. I’m ready to design some useful online courses and focus on my coaching work with Handel Group which nourishes me greatly. And I’m learning how to play the guitar… 😉

    So you’re right – it was time to close. And yes – it’s truly tough to make money owning a yoga studio without regular trainings – and/or a brisk retail business.

    So my hat’s off to you. And to all the teachers: your work is a gift. The way you care about your studies and your teaching is a blessing to the world.

    I think there might be one shift we could all consider – and maybe this is a blog you and I could pen together, MIchelle…

    Teachers, know your worth. Ask for more than you “think” you should be making, and value your offerings anew. Change your relationship to money and consider seeing it as energy – your education means so much, your time is super valuable, and it’s time for us to be earning a good living for our teaching. Keep the energy flowing clean and clear.

    If we all scale up at the same time and ask for what our time is worth given the years of education, a shift in perspective and paradigm is possible.

    With great respect, and feel free to reach out via my site or the Vira site so we can create that if you wish, Michelle!

    Elena

    • Michelle Marchildon on June 5, 2014 at 11:47 am

      Amen Elena. Know your worth, and value it. It’s good advice for more than just yoga.

      I’d love to co-create and write with you. Anytime. If you can’t find me at the yoga studio, I am usually home making dinner for my children. That’s my dharma for the present.

      Love,
      Michelle

      • Kathy O'Rourke on June 5, 2014 at 1:34 pm

        Can’t wait to read the blog you two put together on the topic of value. I am glad to have the further insight into why Virayoga closed. I am an ERYT 500 teacher with two kids I cook for all the time, too, and was just thinking a few hours after reading this the first time, that basically there is a big difference between a teacher with just 200 hours of training and the hours many of us have over 5, 10, 15 plus years of study AND practice — I am 12 years in and would be reluctant to admit to the amount I’ve spent on Anusara, Para, Himalayan Institute trainings – it is fairly mind boggling. Part of the issue is clarifying differences professionally, having a way for other professions like doctors and therapists to understand the differences between teachers/offerings. I can see how complicated this all would be on a macro level. But on a local level, I just simply have to continue to clarify what I can offer to my community and focus on developing my own business — this is where the ‘knowing your worth’ comes in. Our worth is simply not externally validated — there’s little prestige (like you said Michelle, if you want prestige, you claim other hats). I think Elena, you are onto a powerful thread about us claiming the value we know we have to offer.

    • Liza Janda on June 6, 2014 at 10:00 am

      Elena,
      Thank you for the money pep talk. My business coach just gave me a similar talk. I offer Prenatal Yoga and Childbirth classes. With my 19 years of experience I have a wealth of information and resources I share freely, yet I hadn’t raised my prices in 10 years! Until this week!

      I don’t just offer prenatal yoga. I offer a comprehensive educational, spiritual, physical, and thoroughly eye opening training about pregnancy, labor, and birth.

      I have been blessed to be God’s vehicle to change lives. I get compensated all the time with thank you’s and testimonials, which in itself is incredibly rewarding. But for the first time, I’m moving toward seeing what this is worth monetarily.

    • Jennifer on June 10, 2014 at 9:39 am

      Michelle, Thank you for putting this out there! I have been practicing yoga for 10+ years and teaching for the past 5. Teaching as in, private students, classes at my local gym, classes for special populations, specifically designed workshops that are awesome, free yoga in the park, classes for teachers…I even have a DVD…. I stayed away from teaching at local studios because the pay was so terrible. $20 per class. After factoring in childcare expenses I said NO way….because why? I’m worth way more. I know my worth, I know my value. I know what I offer and teach and while knowing your worth and asking for it is important soul work everyone could benefit from…guess what happens when I ask for “what I am worth” from the area yoga studios? They have a budget, of course, understandably, and no amount of me meditating with candles in affirming prayer is going to get their budget to change so that they can accommodate “my worth” my years of experience, personal inquiry, journey, ability to be present during class and truly offer an experience for practitioners to connect with their breath and notice their mind..and then notice the spaces in between the thoughts and then start to notice how they feel so much different in stressful situations that used to send them flying off the handle. My worth is far more than any yoga studio will be able to monetarily compensate for. You cannot quantify the everlasting, slow but steady radical transformation yoga allows for on the inside with a dollar..I mean energetic amount. You can’t. A 200 hour yoga teacher training is NOT ENOUGH. That is an entirely separate topic and conversation. But I just have to put it out there, that one of the big reasons, like you said Michelle, yoga studios do training’s is because they bring in necessary revenue…which from a business perspective=good…but from a teaching perspective= not so great. You are then qualifying people to lead/teach yoga classes that might have only been practicing yoga fro 1-2 years? WTF? Really? and they are the ones who are ready eager and willing to pick up 1000 million classes at the $20 flat rate to build their “following” and get noticed, to progress to the “next stage”. It is not about getting 100,000 likes on your face book fan page…except it is. And it’s not about how many students you pack into a class…except it is. And it’s not about how enlightened you are or if you are a brand ambassador for Lu Lu Lemon…except it is. I literally was told by a yoga studio owner that “unless you are a famous yoga teacher” we only pay $35 per hour for yoga workshops…and I was told by another Yoga Studio owner “unless you are a famous yoga teacher….we do not accept you on the workshop roster”. So what I hear is “must get famous or I am SOL as far as this thing working out” and by working out…I mean…be able to raise my daughter as a single parent with dignity and grace while being present to her needs, my needs, my business needs and following my dharma of making dinner every single night.
      So, Elena I do not think it is as simple as “Teachers knowing their worth and asking for it” because if it was…I would be a millionaire by now… Michelle Thank you for articulating this.

      • Michelle Marchildon on June 10, 2014 at 9:49 am

        So I only reply to the posts from famous yoga teachers, but I will make an exception for you Jennifer (kidding, but it’s not funny. Sorry).

        I can relate to your experience. This is absolutely 100% true: I am a moderately famous yogi from my writings and books, let’s say bigger than a brand new teacher, and much less known than Shiva Rea. When I am asked to travel to do a workshop, I work with the studio but it’s usually a 70/30 split. In Denver, my own studio (not a current studio, but a former studio) asked me to do a workshop where I would be paid $25 an hour. I cannot make this stuff up. When I said the industry average was a 70/30 split, the owner replied he would only pay that for a famous yogi. He would not pay his own semi-famous teachers the industry rate. That was the day when I quit. I did not want to take part in a studio or a system that would take advantage of the local teachers.

        By the way, on that dharma thing of making dinner, order in once in awhile. Really. Nobody will die from fast food now and then. Muah.

        • Noele on November 10, 2015 at 3:23 pm

          One thing not mentioned so far – rent.

          I have been teaching yoga for 15 years and my studio just celebrated it’s 11 year anniversary. It’s been bittersweet.

          Over the past decade I’ve had to pay my teachers less and teach more classes myself to keep up with the increasing rent and special deal price gouging. I’m not happy about it but it’s been a matter of survival.

          My studio has never offered a teacher training for the very reasons mentioned in the article. It would be unethical. I don’t need more teachers. I struggle to take good care of the one’s who have been with me for the last ten years.

          I often don’t pay myself anything at all and for two years lived off of equity from the sale of my home. I’m not getting rich doing this and truth be told I don’t know how much longer I can keep going.

          It’s been a good run and I feel I’ve done a lot of good for many people, but unless things change soon the independently owned yoga studio may well be a thing of the past. That would be a shame.

          For the record, my studio has always found ways to help subsidize classes for those who need financial help. I know I’m not the only one out there doing this.

          • Michelle Marchildon on November 10, 2015 at 3:53 pm

            Wow. Such a moving commentary. My heart is with you.



    • Johanna Birch on August 16, 2014 at 5:17 pm

      Yes!!! Great advice Elena!!! Yogis know your worth!!! After practicing for 8 years, I recently graduated from teacher training. Upon auditioning for a spot at a local studio, I was offered a internship for 30 classes at minimum wage ( just for the one hour class). I am college degreed and hold 2 other fitness based certifications. I told the manager that I was grateful for the offer, but with my training and experience felt that my time was worth more and declined the position. I now teach at home and have an average of 8 per class and charge $10. So, averaging about $90 per class. It is so rewarding and I love my students.

      As an aside, the large yoga corporation that I auditioned for, I also did my initial training with and an added extension program afterwards. They certified me and two of my instructors actually gave me recommendations, why then would they need me to do a 30 class internship? This would’ve been quite profitable for the company having me teach for minimum wage, but still charging students full price.

      • Michelle Marchildon on August 17, 2014 at 9:41 am

        Dear Johanna,
        I know very well of which corporation you speak. Back in my day, when the dinosaurs roamed, we taught the 30 class internship FOR FREE! Yes, you read that correctly. It was not compensated time. In your case, I’m confident you had the talent and knowledge to be worth a better paycheck. In my case, I still didn’t know what I was doing so I was fine with the unpaid labor. Truly, it took me about two years to get my feet under me and know what I was doing in the yoga room.

  22. KV on June 5, 2014 at 11:13 am

    I probably would not have started practicing yoga at all if it wasn’t for the free community class offered during my lunch hour.

    Now it’s 7 years later and I’ve taken countless $10 classes, countless donation-based classes, countless free classes, purchased dozens of packages of all types, paid for several several workshops, and completed a 200-hour teacher training for $3K. I don’t buy fancy clothes or go to festivals, nor can I afford retreats. But I want to teach and the studios aren’t offering paid classes to new teachers, so the only way I can do it is by offering free community classes. Hopefully some of the people at those classes will be like me and stick with it and attend your studio classes, workshops, and retreats.

    I can only afford to take 1 or 2 $10 classes per week and I take them at local studios. If and when I can attend a free class, I do, because it helps me practice more often than I otherwise would. I don’t know what the answer is, but I hope it’s not that we have to stop offering free and donation-based classes. That would be a shame.

    • Michelle Marchildon on June 5, 2014 at 11:43 am

      I agree. I don’t have the answers, really, but yoga should be accessible to all. But, those who can, should probably pay. Gawd, I sound like a socialist.

  23. JAL (Jose Alberto Luzardo) on June 5, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Hello Michele. Excellent article. I saw it on my FB wall. I think the core of your article lies in your own words at the beginning: “There is an interesting conundrum at the heart of yoga and that is it was a practice that was never designed to make money. It was invented to create enlightenment, and you know what they say, money can’t buy you love.” Then, maybe the ‘yoga industry’ is trying to square the circle and what we see now and described in your article is the consequence of trying to make an impossibility possible. It could work for a while, it could make a few rich, and provide some with a temporary living, but at the end, it will collapse. Pure and simple Karma law. My advice is, if I may, get out of this square box called the ‘yoga industry,’ ‘the yoga for profit,’ ‘the yoga fashion,’ ‘the yoga sport for competition,’ and stick to the basis of this ancient and holistic philosophy. You are entitled to be compensated for your valuable time and knowledge and you will naturally and spontaneously be rewarded when you teach yoga as it was meant to be: a direct interaction between guru and disciple in which asanas are a fundamental part but not all of yoga. And for really helping others (isn’t that what we want?), we need to cover the other 7 limbs of yoga. Sincerely, JAL (Jose Alberto Luzardo)

    • Michelle Marchildon on June 5, 2014 at 3:46 pm

      Yes, Jose, well said. The conundrum is really the heart of the matter. I am hearing from many that if not for access to free yoga, then they would never have discovered the practice. And our reward as teachers is surely the knowledge that we have helped another human being. But at some point it will mean that only the independently wealthy teachers will be able to offer their services, while the rest of us do what needs to be done.

      Thank you for writing in.

    • Jennifer Lilith on July 18, 2014 at 10:24 am

      If yoga studios had the tax shelter that religion enjoys this could work. Something is seriously wrong with our society when evangelicals (one example) build mega churches and their ministers live in mansions while great yogis struggle to send their children to college. I could go on, but I have to get back to work.
      If I were perusing my passion of acting I’d be living in the car that I don’t own, so I have a job in sales to pay the bills.
      Michelle, thank you for starting this fascinating discussion.

  24. Shanda Packard on June 6, 2014 at 8:25 am

    Excellent article, Michelle – very well put. And the comments have had some very thoughtful and respectful threads. I’d like to add my two cents as well, as a yoga teacher of about 15 years, an E-200 / 500, Certified Yoga Therapist, studio owner, experienced businesswoman, and broke single mom.

    I could not agree with Elena more: both the teachers and the students need to see a class as an exchange of value. I don’t expect a massage for free; and if I found one, I wouldn’t expect it to be a quality massage — even if it were the best massage ever, I wouldn’t value it as highly as one for which I had paid $60.

    Secondly, and more importantly, more bodies in the studio may pay the bills if you’re focused on $5 per head; but is it delivering the best and safest practice for your students? I can’t focus on the alignment of 20 bodies at once. I can’t watch 20 people’s faces to see if they’re wincing in virasana. I definitely can’t move props around effectively for a huge class. And I’m not certain that my “gentle” voice will carry in a room large enough to hold 20 people for a guided meditation in savasana.

    I keep my class sizes small (5-8 people per class), and I charge a premium price. My business is about two years old now, and it’s off to a good start. I’m not making bank, but I am able to make rent. I would love to see more studios adopting this concept and get away from the $5 per head, 20 student classes.

    • Yoga Studio Owner on June 6, 2014 at 12:33 pm

      Likewise, we do not offer free or discounted classes or workshops. Historically, we experienced lower attendance at free events than at events for which we charged a fair fee, because students perceived the free events as worthless and the paid events as having value. Yoga instructors should also never teach for free or at a reduced fee (unless at a festival or conference for PR purposes), as they will be taken advantage of by studio owners who will perceive those teachers’ services as having little value.

      Two final points:

      1. The big name teachers are paid very little to teach at conferences and festivals. They teach for PR purposes in order to land $7,000-per-weekend workshops at large studios whose owners often attend such conferences. All told, the studio pays a total of $10,000, including expenses. Is there any more room for big name teachers in the industry? Maybe one more per year, so, with those odds, yoga teachers should focus on expertly teaching yoga to local students. The odds of being struck by lightning while simultaneously being mauled by a rabid gnu are higher.

      2. We have observed other studios becoming addicted to those little bursts of Groupon income (admittedly, we have never used it), but the loss of that small income — and the failure of Grouponiers to enroll as full members — are not the sole causes of a studio’s demise. Rather, existing students are put off by the sudden influx of new students whose behavior reflects their perception of the studio as having little value. We have learned that every studio that uses Groupon loses existing members as a direct result. Groupon is great for filling up a brand new studio, but it should not be used by a studio that has been in existence for more than six months.

      • Lori B. on June 11, 2014 at 6:49 am

        At the studio I teach (I’m an independent contractor) I offer once a month a Karma Yoga class. This class is donation based and all $ goes into an envelope where any student in need can use it to pay for pay for class, getting gas or milk, etc. No questions asked. The students who attend are quite generous too. I donate my time and the studio donates the space. The way I approached it is why should we lose a student due to inability to pay? By offering this class, we keep those who can’t afford it. And the studio offers very reasonable packages and a $13 drop in rate. It’s really a win win for all.

        Through all of this I’ve seen my student base grow.

  25. Victoria Klein on June 6, 2014 at 9:30 am

    This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read about the reality of the Yoga industry. First, bravo for an amazing article, but it’s also a major bummer that 100% of what you said is true. Everything feeds off of everything else, every discount effects someone, especially individual Yoga teachers. Much like the overall work ethic in the Western world, people are usually impressed with Yoga teachers who teach 10-15 classes per week – it’s oddly admirable. Not for me! I teach no more than 8 classes per week (including subbing) because I’d never have any peace for myself if I tried to go past that. Add in personal commitments, relationships, cleaning, cooking, shopping, pay bills, working out, planning classes, getting additional education to continue helping students … there just aren’t enough hours in the day. I happily applaud you for being so honest and raw about what is going on in the Yoga industry that most folks don’t see (or don’t give 2 sh*ts about). Discount/free Yoga is a fun part of Summer, but that doesn’t make it sustainable or smart for teachers or studios … such a crazy conundrum.

  26. Liza Janda on June 6, 2014 at 9:53 am

    This belongs in Yoga Journal! I hope they pick it up.

  27. Katie on June 6, 2014 at 9:54 am

    I just wanted to say thank you so very much for writing this piece and highlighting the many thoughts that go through my head on a daily basis.There are MANY times throughout the week when I question myself if I am doing the right thing, working hard as a yoga instructor while going to nursing school. Last Christmas, my very successful brother (we call him the prodigy child) even asked me if nursing was something I really wanted to do and questioned why I didn’t just go full time into the yoga business. This article answers his question beautifully. I have a passion for health, wellness, holistic living and serving others. My dream is to unite the two together but I also have a huge dream to be a mother and a wife and be able to support my family the way I was supported when growing up in Albany. I can’t thank you enough for providing me this written reminder. It can be done,but it really takes courage and hard work and to be honest, my biggest fear in anything, not just yoga, is to get burnt out. I admire full time yoga instructors beyond belief. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my own teacher who is full time. But this article is exactly what I needed to hear for my practice and future. Thank you, Michelle, from the bottom of my heart.

  28. Yoga Studio Owner on June 6, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Hi Michelle,

    Nice article. I am an owner of a yoga studio that makes a profit, but I also have a day job that for years funded the large investment required to nurture a studio to this point. I think the solution is to simply allow market forces to weed out those studios and teachers who do not want to, or who cannot, participate in what has become a competitive environment. Seventy-five percent of all restaurants fail in their first year, which is about the same rate for yoga studios, but long-term vision, customer service and business savvy help beat the odds in both industries. I may ultimately become a victim of my own capitalistic approach, but I will continue to work 60+ hours per week to avoid it.

    Regarding some of your points.

    1. Why don’t studios provide health insurance for instructors? We can’t afford it for all instructors, particularly for those who teach very few classes. Our studio is managed by W-2 employees who are provided with health insurance, and all classes are taught by independent contractor instructors who are not provided with health insurance. Some of our teachers choose to teach only one class per week for us, and they all either teach at several other studios or have non-yoga day jobs, so it wouldn’t make sense for them to expect us to pay for their insurance. Instead, we pay our instructors a very high, guaranteed per-class fee in the hope that they will use some of those fees to purchase their own insurance (luckily, it’s now very affordable!). Note: we do not pay a per-head fee, because it creates teacher angst, which invariably impacts their teaching style. Why do we pay so much? Because happy workers create a client-friendly environment, high teaching fees attract the best teachers (yes, teachers migrate toward money, as they should), and the combination eventually creates a profitable studio. For years, we lost money subsidizing our teachers’ fees, but we stuck it out for the purpose of recouping our investment and creating a viable studio we hope to enjoy and share with others for decades to come. Neither we nor the studios where you teach can afford to additionally pay for teachers’ health insurance (no, not even the big chains), especially if that monthly premium exceeds your monthly teaching fee.

    2. Your statement “Most of us practice where it is close and convenient to our homes” is correct. A study commissioned decades ago by Bally’s indicates that fitness club members will regularly travel an average of eight minutes to their chosen gym. The same is true with yoga studios, as evidenced by reports generated by studio management software. Again, this is an average, so some yoga students will regularly travel fifteen minutes, and some will travel just one, but the majority of a studio’s members will fall around the eight-minute range. Should studios expect students to regularly travel longer distances? No, because students simply won’t. As such, studios that are located in lower-rent areas that have low population density or low household income simply won’t survive. Should instructors expect students to travel long distances to attend their classes? No, this is an egoistic expectation. Yoga is about the student, and not about the teacher. We find that the most successful teachers understand this concept, have a general understanding of business, keenly understand the concept of customer service, conduct themselves in a highly professional manner (no Facebook photos of them draped over a rock in a bikini) and do not otherwise try to draw students’ attention to themselves inside or outside of the studio.

    3. We also run a successful yoga teacher training program, but we hardly “net” $2,000 to $4,000 per student. Our profit after all direct YTT expenses is about $500 per student. And, no, we’re not bad at business.

    4. Your statement that free yoga festivals “have almost no overhead” is incorrect. Most fee-based and free festivals lose money, even if they don’t pay the teachers. There are myriad expenses involved in running a festival, so the promoters – usually studios – and teachers use them as “loss leaders” for PR purposes. Try this exercise: put together a comprehensive plan for running your own yoga festival for 1,000+ attendees. As a start, call the city parks department and your insurer.

    5. Your statement that “small studios that offer more personalized yoga … could very soon be a thing of the past” is true. Many small studios are run more as hobbies rather than as businesses, given that they operate at the owners’ convenience. For example: a) some offer very few classes per week – students want a full range of class times; b) some cancel classes frequently and with little warning, because there may be no back-up instructor – each cancellation loses a student or two; c) the owner/teacher becomes overly involved in students’ lives – the vast majority of students really don’t want their yoga teacher to cross this professional/personal line (would you want your pharmacist asking you to babysit her cat?); and d) some take advantage of their teachers by paying low or no fees – so long, high quality teachers!

    6. Finally, I believe Elena suggested that instructors should agree to simultaneously demand higher teaching fees. Instructors who are W-2 employees of their yoga studios are free to unionize, but this will force small studios out of business even more quickly than you were lamenting. The vast majority of instructors are independent contractors, so federal and state antitrust laws prohibit such price fixing by instructors (and by studios).

    Sorry for the rant. Thanks for your time.

    • Michelle Marchildon on June 6, 2014 at 11:22 am

      Absolutely amazing analysis, Yoga Studio Owner, and I thank you. I know there are almost always pros and cons, and to be clear (especially since I have heard from an upset Yoga on the Rocks), I support the yoga festivals! They build community, they give students exposure to new teachers, and for many they are fun. But if they offer a free day (Which is not always, but occasionally) they do contribute to the proliferation of free yoga. If I could get a manicure for free, it’s doubtful I would pay $20 no matter how good it was. Its a conundrum. Do we sacrifice income to increase exposure? I don’t have the answers, but I’ve always been a fan of having the conversation. I do believe that teachers and studios need to work together to insure that they both stay in business. For example, I teach at 2 studios, but I do not teach the same thing or the same style. If someone wants to learn more about alignment, or go deeper into their practice, they have to find me at Kindness yoga. If they want more of a power style, I am at one of those corporate studios with big classes. That’s how I honor each in my own way.

      Thank you so much for writing in. I really value your perspective.

  29. Ben McLellan on June 6, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    This is a great topic. There are many things you address, but I would like to speak from a studio owners viewpoint. I have owned a studio for 4.5 years. I started in a small, 1400 sq ft, space and taught all of the classes myself. About eight months in I had the good fortune of meeting my business coach. It changed everything. I learned how to establish my studio as a membership based studio. Why? Because it followed the teaching that we need to practice consistently. The drop in model offers no accountability for students and we all need accountability. Right? On the business side, the membership model allows the studio owner some certainty as to what their revenue will look like each month. The key pieces to my success have been my personal practice, studying with masters, having a business coach, setting a revenue goal each month, having an enrollment process for new students, and other essential business systems. The problem, as I see it, is not a lack of students or too many free festivals. The problem is that studio owners don’t know how to create a community and business that will last.
    I knew nothing about business when I opened and it was paralyzing. There were so many days that I didn’t want to get out of bed, in that first year, that I lost count. We need to spend as much time on our Yoga practice as we do on our business practice.

    Blessings,
    Ben

    http://www.yogabusinessmastermind.com

  30. Brent Coleman on June 6, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    If you teach in a hot studio then the normal time it takes to teach 1 class is 3 hours…considering you have to be there 30 minutes early and stay after and shower before you could possibly see a private client.

  31. Brent Coleman on June 6, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Also ViraYoga was hugely successful as an anusara studio before the John Friend Debacle. If Iyengar started sleeping with every married woman he met then his studios might suffer as well.

  32. Grace on June 7, 2014 at 1:58 am

    I understand where the author is coming from. Teaching yoga chose me, it began as a volunteer gig I did for recovering abuse victims- I received a scholarship to attend a 200 hr intensive at a really expensive and probably the most well known center in the US. Being mindful of making the choice to accept what was offered to me is something I remind myself of all the time.. However- this path really isn’t for everyone. True, enlightenment won’t pay the bills, and yes I’m broke- moths fly out of my wallet and my body feels broken sometimes when I have to teach 14 classes a week for a little more than gas money. And valid: money doesn’t buy happiness but it can relieve stress, pressure, pay bills, buy food.. but I suppose if I were to jump in here and file a complaint it might be about the great disappointment of some “yogis” who put on their stretchy pants to attend class with expectations.. I have gotten very little negative feedback, most people like yoga and want to like going to yoga class so they leave happy and return, my classes are usually full. HOWEVER, it is true that yoga teachers are offering a big part of themselves, I do. I put my heart into teaching and I am only let down by “yogis” who come in and criticize. Otherwise, this article reads like a hard work week, we all know it’s tough sometimes but I’m so grateful I get to do what I love and it never feels like work. I stay after with students all the time, for hours, sometimes people just need to talk so I refer to that extra time as “stretching” for some students who want to be a part of a community. It’s an honor to be able to hold space for these souls who are looking for a safe place to explore their feelings about their personal lives, their stress, they bring it to class- release it in asana and take the time to allow their emotional lives to settle after class.
    I honestly have a more positive attitude about my work, I love what I do and I’m so grateful, this career path is not for everyone and it would be great if there weren’t so many YTT programs just taking money from people with romantic ideas about being a “yoga teacher”. It is what it is, but for me, it is what I make it.

  33. Cbg on June 7, 2014 at 7:37 am

    Michelle,
    Do you think that online yoga classes detract from studio attendance? Based on your perspective, it seems that you would believe this to be true. It also seems that you teach online classes.
    Curious.

    • Michelle Marchildon on June 7, 2014 at 7:52 am

      I think online classes only benefit the studios. First of all, there’s a percentage of people who will never, ever want to practice in public. You might be surprised to know that it’s quite high. Years ago Yoga Journal estimated that something like 10 million people practice in their homes for whatever reason, shyness, embarrassment, etc. If the online classes help them to learn yoga, and feel more secure, some may venture into a public class. And while the online classes are often excellent instruction, they cannot SEE the student. So if the student wants to know what they are doing, right or wrong, better or worse, they will need to come into a studio or find a live teacher someday.

  34. Kaylee Rose on June 7, 2014 at 7:39 am

    Although lululemon does offer a free weekly yoga class which probably does take away from local studios at that time once a week, they also pay the fee for each of their employees to take two drop in classes per week, as well as promote those studios who are teaching the free Sunday class. It’s like an investment in advertising for the studio, and yes, it helps lulu create community and therefore sell clothes. It’s symbiotic, not one sided.

    • Michelle Marchildon on June 7, 2014 at 7:49 am

      My only point is that there is a proliferation of available, free alternatives to paying for yoga. That’s all.

  35. portland yogi on June 7, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Hi Michelle,

    Thank you for your well written article. I am living what you have described. Also, your responses to the posts are thoughtful and invite sharing and discussion. I appreciate your beautiful and kind spirit.

    I have owned a studio for 12+ years so I think I can say I am an established studio. My studio’s peak was in 2007 and it has never recovered. My thoughts about the decline of the number of students coming to classes are:

    1. Yoga has peaked. Americans like fads and “new” things and the new yoga students who might have shown up for the fitness aspect have moved on to Cross Fit, TRX, etc.

    2. There are far more yoga offerings available. When I opened my studio, there was only one other within a five mile radius. Now there are at least 10 (I stopped counting because it depressed me). Plus the offerings in gyms, community centers, park and rec districts, wellness centers, etc.

    3. There has been some recent push back about yoga safety in the media.

    I have taught for over 15 years and have spent many hours and thousands of dollars each year on classes, teacher trainings, workshops, books etc. I feel I am an experienced, seasoned teacher.

    Yoga has been a gift to me, helping me recover from severe depression and anxiety issues, and giving me self-confidence and health. I feel I teach with authenticity no matter how many show up for my classes. But the truth is if I didn’t have a husband with a good job, my studio would have closed a long time ago.

    My studio is in area with high earners (lots of professional types). My studio is a beautiful space. We offer classes every day at all different times. I advertise locally through various media, knowing it is true I must build a base of nearby students. I have an expert help me with my website and online presence. I have experienced teachers who are passionate about yoga. But it is not enough, and when my lease comes up in soon I will have to think long and hard about continuing.

    • Michelle Marchildon on June 7, 2014 at 7:03 pm

      Dear Portland Yogi,
      You have hit the nail on the head exactly, I believe. Remember Jazzercise? There used to be one in every town. Today, it’s nearly extinct. It is my hope that yoga survives. I love it with all my heart, and it pains me to see my industry eating itself alive. For example, there is free yoga in parks, stores, to sell hotel rooms, free yoga and swim with the dolphins, yoga and picnic hikes, yoga and you name it. Today I was having lunch in Denver, and the Prana store had a sign for its next 4 free yoga events. Why don’t they give away a rock climbing experience? Right?

    • West on June 10, 2014 at 6:49 pm

      Portlan”dia” Yogi (I love Portlandia!),

      NAILED IT! Yoga has “peaked”, I prefer the term “bubble”, and is bursting or coming to a hard landing. Yoga had about 7 great years, I say 2005-2012, but like most trendy things it will fade away into the background like Jazzercise (credit given to Michelle for that reference). Note: There is a Jazzercise Studio not far from my house…..guess what? It is making a comeback! Zumba is also the latest rage which is peaking right now but will soon crash.

      Those Studios which cashed in on the YTT Craze, churning out 100s of 20-year old “McYogis” yearly will find the well has dried up. The next Generation of kids won’t enjoy Yoga (period emphasized). Just as previous Generations don’t want to emulate their older brothers and sisters, this coming Generation will find something to call their own.

      Those 20-something McYogis are now in their late-20s and will have grown tired of living in their parents basement and realize they need to find a job that allows them to actually live since they can’t find a Teaching Job that pays enough to survive. Now they are broke and will realize they were caught in a Quasi-Pyramid Scheme that those Studios “encouraged” (sic) “conned” them into believing that they too could become a Yoga Superstar. I have a fellow teacher friend who fits this description to a “T”. She is a wonderful woman but totally believes what her local “Tribe” is feeding her.

      Now, what I think will happen is Yoga will return to what it was prior to this bubble. Cities like Omaha, where I live and Teach, currently has ~15 Studios and say ~30 gyms that Teach Yoga regularly. At least half of those Studios will close within a couple years due to the bubble-burst. Gyms will move on to the latest trend and Yoga will be the similar niche that it has always been in the United States. Those who survived will continue to stay busy and wait for the next wave to ride.

      So there is always something positive on the horizon. Hmmmmm….maybe I should add a Jazzercise Instructor to my Resume. I would look great in Richard Simmons “short-shorts” and leg-warmers! Om Shanti Shanti Shanti. Namaste.

  36. Sue on June 7, 2014 at 10:33 am

    I saw the link for your post on a friend’s FB wall, who said it explains why she left yoga teaching. I’m a sometime student who has used the free classes a local studio offers (1/2 hr bus ride away), because more practice is just not in my budget right now — although joining the studio that’s a 5-minute walk from here is high on my wish list.

    What strikes me is that what you discuss is directly applicable to other enlightenment-based businesses, such as coaching, massage, Reiki, etc. All of them are struggling with the fact that they are mostly viewed as luxury items, competing for the same client dollars. It isn’t unusual for folks to have to choose between yoga or massage — what gives the most relaxation and relief for the money and time available?

    I don’t have answers to this situation, but it might be valuable for you to recognize this fact and understand that it’s more universal than you think.

    • Michelle Marchildon on June 7, 2014 at 6:58 pm

      Thank you Sue. I do recognize that many other businesses were hit hard by the downturn in our economy. In fact, my own bodywork/massage therapist/reiki person could not survive in 2012 and so she went back to school to earn a RN degree. She became a nurse, ironically began to massage her clients, and is now back as a full-time body worker. Such is life. However, my article was specifically concerning yoga.

    • Trace Olivetoo on June 27, 2014 at 10:59 am

      I agree with everything in this post and most of the comments. But do even teachers realize that we are supposed to be teaching students to PRACTICE, not to attend more classes.

      Classes are NOT yoga practice.

      • Michelle Marchildon on June 27, 2014 at 11:31 am

        I get that yoga is so much more than a yoga class. But in my mind there are some lovely advantages to practicing together in a class, such as, learning a new posture, learning new alignment and simply getting support from a group. Even breath work in a group is bigger, louder and just a different experience. When I was a new mom, I was so lonely at home with my baby and toddler that if I hadn’t had my other moms in yoga class to lean on, I would have just cried myself to death. So, although yoga is more than just a class, a class is a good place to start in my mind.

  37. Robert Birnberg on June 7, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Thanks Michelle for your article. It touches on many interesting aspects of the current Yoga trend. There is, however much more to be said about the topic. My ten years studying in Chennai at the Krishnamacharya Mandiram opened my eyes to the larger context of the current Yoga fad in the west.

    First, group classes are a phenomena which Iyengar and Patabi Jois experienced as teenagers while studying with my teacher’s teacher, T. Krishnmacharya. Group classes for adults were unheard of until the last 40 years, and the current obsession with Asana pretty much miss the whole point of Yoga as originally conceived and practiced.

    For thousands of years, Yoga, based on Samkyha philosophy and fully articulated in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, was (and still is) a spiritual psychology for finding more sustained Joy in daily living.

    Of the 195 sutras in Patanjali’s foundation text, there are exactly three sutras on Asana.
    (Please take a moment to et that fact sink in)

    Classically, the student would search for a teacher, and if accepted would study for many years (usually with a wise man living in a cave). The dedicated sisya would explore the ancient texts with their teacher and practice all the tools necessary to live an amazing life. All adult study one on one (no Yogacharya ever said, ‘come back to the cave at 6:30 for a level 2 class on shoulder openers, and bring 10 friends’)

    These tools are clearly outlined in the Sutras, which by the way most Yoga teachers have either somehow missed or merely touched upon in their trainings. I can verify this because I train Yoga teachers for Yoga Works, and they’re so busy studying the use of props, adjustments and partner stretches that they get about 4 hours, that’s right 4 friggin hours exploring Yoga’s foundation text, usually with a teacher who thinks that Yoga is related to Hinduism and or Indian culture. As I said before, Yoga is a universal spiritual study of the human mind, heart and spirit. Just as golf just happens to be from Scotland, Yoga just happens to be from India. (Namaste is a casual North Indian greeting, and although it’s how hugger mugger answers the phone before they try and sell you a mat and some blocks, it has NOTHING to do with the Psychology of Yoga.

    Personally, I make a great living teaching in the classical model. I have several students, with whom I only work one on one. Together, we use the Sutras (which I have been studying for over 40 years) as a tool for examining and refining their lives, improving their relationships. Our time together involves hours of heart-to-heart discussions, counseling and coaching on new ways to perceive their lives, think about the future, and conduct their daily affairs.

    Another interesting fact: no one has EVER stretched their way to deep, lasting happiness (if this were possible all the dancers and gymnasts in the world would be enlightened masters, which they are clearly not).

    Nonetheless, to bring a little more flexibility to the spine, awareness of the breath and clarity to the mind, I give my students a short prescriptive personal practice which may include some breath-centered asana, pranayama, a gratitude journal, visualization, chanting, rituals, Sutras study, or whatever else they need to change their lives. They then go home to perform and experience their deeply transformative practice on a regular, if not daily basis.

    My students are happy to pay me well, and only come see me once a month or so, which turns out to be way more affordable than endless group stretch classes masquerading as Yoga at the local Asana factory.

    Having taught hundreds of students in this traditional manner for over 20 years, I been blessed to witness incredible transformations at every level in many, many individuals.

    Though this classical model bears little resemblance to the endless festivaled, over-conferenced, tranced out kirtaned, tattooed, lululemoned Yoga culture which the west has recreated in its own image, It is, nonetheless the Darsana of Yoga, as practiced for over three thousand years. And it is truly Amazing. You guys and gals should try it sometime. Namaste (just kidding)

    • Michelle Marchildon on June 7, 2014 at 6:56 pm

      You mean your yoga pants can’t buy you enlightenment? But all kidding aside, yoga has taken many forms since coming to the West. I don’t mind it, not even the festival carnival atmosphere. It’s all yoga to me. I only hope it doesn’t die out someday from saturation, people getting hurt, people needing real jobs, etc. I love yoga with all my heart, however it wants to manifest in America.

  38. Siobhan McAuley on June 7, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    Hi Michelle

    Thanks so much for this insightful post and for stimulating a very much needed conversation about the industry. kudos to you!

    I wanted to say that I think Elena is right about teachers needing to spend time on looking at their relationship to money. In one sense, money is never the problem, it’s just the excuse we use to not do what we really say we want. For a teacher that may mean needing to spend time really getting clear about what they love doing, and how they actually want to spend their days.

    With over 15 years in the industry, not only did I not want to spend my time running all over town to teach, I didn’t want to be using my body in that way 5 or 10 years down the road. Then as life sometimes does, I was given a chance to really think about how I wanted to spend my days when I was diagnosed with cancer.

    Now I coach other teachers, artists and healers, all of whom rarely ask themselves what they really want to do with the business they’ve chosen.

    In fact, most yoga teachers don’t even realize that when they chose to teach, they chose to go into business for themselves. So it’s no wonder that they haven’t spent much time thinking about what they want their end game to be.

    Cancer made having a sound exit strategy a very real thing for me, but most teachers are just trying to get by one day at a time.

    As far as keeping one’s energy clear around their relationship with money, I would venture to say that perhaps the conversation might start with what we value first.

    Often we say that we can’t afford something, when really what we mean is we don’t value it enough to find the money to make it happen. I think that we’ve all had the experience of being able to find a way to buy the things that we want, when we really want something though. Have we not?

    So if we look at it from the point of view of a teacher it might mean valuing the freedom to teach what we choose, rather than what a studio’s guidelines expect. Or maybe it means valuing the space and resources of teaching in a large studio versus teaching in a church basement. Teaching classes in a church though have often yielded for more money for me than in a studio, but you also have to take care of all the administration, marketing, and props, if you use them.

    From a teacher or students point of view, value might translate as self-care. What price are we willing to put on our own self-care? In a culture that largely expects woman to do it all, it can be a very scary thing to confront just how little value we place on our own care. Cancer has taught me this – and I thought I had a pretty good relationship to my self-care! lol

    As with many areas in life, the journey is not always an easy one but it can be a time rich with deep learning about oneself and others, if we remain open to it.

    I look forward to hearing what you and Elena write on the subject together. Thank you both for your service, and for your commitment to evolution of the practice.

    Siobhan

    • Michelle Marchildon on June 7, 2014 at 6:52 pm

      Siobhan, I am a cancer survivor too. It’s amazing how a diagnosis like that clears up the unimportant things in your life, so you can make your life your priority. You make wonderful points. Not just as a cancer-survivor, but as a woman past 50, I too wonder about making a living standing on my head or hands. So thank you for your perspective.

      And I always loved the name Siobhan. It’s so romantic!

  39. Debra on June 7, 2014 at 9:17 pm

    Michelle,

    Thank you so much for giving this topic more exposure. About a year ago I moved to the Denver area, specifically for yoga and continuing education. I came to the glaring conclusion that as a single parent in her 30’s it was all together entirely too scary and too risky a proposition that I “chase the dream” of becoming a professional yoga teacher. Heart broken, I went back into an industry that I long to leave, and yet crave the security of, via my reliable pay check.

    Prior to moving here, I taught yoga for nearly 7 years, in a small community with ample teaching opportunities. One of the first gigs I got offered here started at $20 per class. Now, as a single parent, that would hardly cover my babysitter, forget buying any designer yoga clothes. I got into Yoga to help myself, and discovered I loved it so much, I wanted to share it with others. I wanted to help others participate in their own healing. I didn’t get into Yoga for ego glorification, and I’m not intending just to rant about single parent-dom, but rather to echo some rather significant issues with the perpetuation of yoga as what I refer to as the “side dish ordering” of yoga. As an industry, we are content to water yoga down as a mere side order everywhere we go. As you and others have pointed out, we have yoga offered at Pilates studios, CrossFit gyms, before you know it, the freaking grocery stores will probably offer us free yoga….now having invested in a lot of training, certifications and time over the years (yes, this may be minimal to some), this pisses me off. Is my training and time and experience worth more than $20 an hour??? I sure as hell think so.

    Personally, I would like to see the yoga industry up the ante on requirements for teaching and suggest that more stringent regulations on teacher certifications help to raise the value of yoga asana as a methodology of healing. Other industries and businesses know that when one business begins to lower their value, this is inherently dangerous to another because it sets a standard. I’m not sure what all the answers are, either, but I can certainly say hell to the yes on the industry continuing this dialog. Thanks for initiating the conversation!

  40. Kim Dowd on June 7, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    Thank you for this article! I am a 200RYT, but I am about to embark continuing my education focusing on Yoga Therapy. Your article made me gasp, “What am I doing? Maybe I should save my money?” Then I remembered “why” I am doing this.

    We do have a free market system and as with most occupations people have seen their incomes decrease. This I know because I still work in corporate Amercia. My co-workers and I earn roughly half of what we made in 2007. If we fought for what we are worth, then we would all be unemployed. As for the 401k match….I’ll probably die before I see a dime of it. These days, it is triple the stress for half the money. Thus the need for yoga.

    I see yoga studios do a Groupon, but never invest in any other form of outside marketing. A website is a must. But, I don’t see many studios invest in marketing to drive a serious yoga student to their studio/website.

    I did not want to teach in a studio. I wanted to teach outside to people who will never go to a yoga studio for various reasons. Many reasons being that they are not thin, flexible, blonde, 22 and don’t care about handstand. Thus, I crafted a marketing plan to target where I wanted to teach and then I crafted a marketing plan to make sure people attended my classes. I do make more than most yoga teachers per class, because I went to work marketing myself to the people I wanted to attract. Which means it is usually a good match for my skills and what the student is looking for.

    If you use Groupon, you get the Groupon crowd. If you want to attract people who can pay more for the classes, then it is the job of any business to work to attract and keep that crowd. Can’t afford marketing? Well, it isn’t cheap to have an empty studio.

    I hate to see a yoga studio close. But, it is usually closing before I even knew they were open. I also don’t see teachers invest in marketing themselves. They invest in their training, spend hours planning a class…..but, never take the time to tell me why I should show up for their class tomorrow. A 3 minute FB post on the studio’s FB page would be great.

    If studios and teachers are betting on word of mouth about how great they are, they are taking a huge risk that the studio will fail or their class will be empty. If you want to earn a living it is vital to market yourself to the right people.

    Just my thoughts.

  41. Yoga, dragoste si faliment | De azi… on June 8, 2014 at 2:20 am

    […] Why Yoga is a Broke-A** Business […]

  42. Nancy Levenson on June 8, 2014 at 8:00 am

    “I just don’t have the energy to work 60 hours”
    This statement in the article says it all about the author. Energy is an exchange and there is more to yoga and the path than filling your wallet. Giving back to the community in the form of Free Yoga In The Park, is a currency exchange….you just can’t see it because of the short term desire to be “rewarded.”

    I attended a celebration of life of one of my clients that passed… I had spent the last week of her life working in hospice with Prana and meditation…the family, many of whom I never met thanked me for making her life transition peaceful…that is currency…does it send my child to college, no, but it teaches them values.

    You make a lot of generalizations about teacher training too. Not all come to training to teach, I have many in my program who are ill and seeking a path, nurses, physical therapist, and doctors wanting to offer more to their clients, so they should not impact your income.

    Complaining about a system in the West that doesn’t make you money…maybe you should revisit you business model…I’m flourishing, giving back and following my dharma.

    • Michelle Marchildon on June 8, 2014 at 8:36 am

      Why the anger Nancy Levenson? Maybe you should try more yoga. Everyone says it works. And by the way, I am all for teaching for the pure love of it. If you read my blog (rather than react), you will see I do exactly that. I went to YTT because I LOVE yoga, I teach because I love yoga, I’m just not sure there’s a living there, which you, um, kinda prove with all your selfless exchange of prana. And by the way, I do not have the energy to teach 60 hours because my dharma is to raise my children right now. If that bothers you, I’m sorry.

      • Nancy Levenson on June 8, 2014 at 10:18 am

        Michelle, there is no anger. Just another viewpoint, sorry if it hurts. Interesting approach to responding — maybe you should have led with your statements in this response, as this is not conveyed in your post.

        • Michelle Marchildon on June 8, 2014 at 12:08 pm

          You must have missed this part, Nancy Levinson.

          “I make exceptions in my pay for small studios that offer more personalized yoga, which could very soon be a thing of the past. I drive a long way to teach a small class of yogis who are looking for something unique, and that makes me happy if not rich.”

          Have a nice day, really, try.

  43. Diana on June 8, 2014 at 9:03 am

    This was a great read and so happy you posted this! I think a lot
    of people want to do yoga, but think $15-$20 a class is too much, so they end up doing groupon or classes where the teachers are less trained, and then are at risk for injury. I’ve spoken to other types of studios that say they only make enough money to be open if they get $15 a head, so they rely on people with memberships not showing up to class. I think your advice on spending your yoga $$ wisely is sound, and that people will benefit more in the long run if they build a relationship with a studio/teacher that is worth all of those dollars!

  44. markd on June 8, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    Nice article, but a little on the whiny side. Might be due to your lack of understanding regarding how market economics works.

    And regarding teacher training as a way for studios to make money… in my opinion this hurts local yoga overall. Most of the “new’ yoga teachers I experience are terrible. Maybe one in ten is worth the $5 or $10 class they have to teach. But if that is the formula to make $$$ in the yoga world, then there will be a forever gut of crappy yoga teachers clogging the studios. At least until the yoga bubble bursts.

    • Michelle Marchildon on June 8, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      Dear Mark D:
      Many new yoga teachers have a lot to learn. So do most yoga students. Somehow, we all manage to survive.

  45. Meryem Alaoui on June 8, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    Thanks Michelle for this article. In many passion-driven industries, the service providers are undervalued, underpaid, because they are too often willing to work for less or even for free, just to be able to do what they love, or for exposure (arghh!). I’ve seen it in the dance industry, in the art world, and in the yoga industry so many times.

    I really believe that global change can only happen if we each decide to change our own self first. Change yourself, change the world. Right? You’re saying you don’t have the solution, but you actually do have it, and you’re bringing the change by the conscious choices you’re making about where, when and how to teach/share yoga with the world, just like Elena Brower is doing by choosing to focus more on her online courses and coaching work.

    I know I’m making conscious choices about how I want to teach/share yoga in a way that will serve others and serve me. I’m not necessarily just following what the industry tells me to do: get on the sub list at major yoga studios, then get a regular teaching slot, then start running retreats, then get a following and open a yoga studio, then start holding teacher training programs to support the studio… I’m choosing to deliberately think and consider all the options that are possible, and make conscious decisions that will hopefully serve the purpose of yoga, and teaching (which I see as serving).

    My two cents. The solution is in our individual hands, each one of us.

    Thank you for starting the conversation. All the best, to all of us.

  46. Warren Lange on June 8, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    Yoga is not a business and therefore should not be monetized. In otherwords, keep your day job and choose to be of service. It may also be time to delineate between group fitness and whole enchilada YOGA. Some studios are clearly group fitness, some in between trying to be all things to everybody, and a few true YOGA studios. As a general rule there is a direct correlation to the successful revenue stream of the three models and the order presented. So one question I ask is are you a YOGA teacher or a group fitness instructor?

    The yoga teachers living their yoga are not writing yoga books, jetsetting to weekends offerings, or producing DVDs. Anyone profiting while guiding others towards a spiritual journey may have some ego issues to work through.

    Studio owners that run a for profit model will always be driven by the rent, before the practice, so it’s my personal belief that studios (except the CorePower, YogaWorks, etc. – read group fitness) will continue to be short lived without a financial supporter.

    Colorado Public Radio ram a story about a year ago suggesting we give the Hindus their YOGA back!

  47. John McWhorter on June 9, 2014 at 4:24 am

    Thanks for the insightful article. After reading it and all the feedback, I find myself agreeing with Warren and especially Richard. The teachers I hold in the highest regard teach and live the whole enchilada. Some are as well trained as any physician and they charge accordingly. I believe they are the real holders of the yoga tradition.

    After many years of yoga, I stared down at what seemed like a choice: either walk the path of serious yoga as a hard core renunciate and take the yoga path to wherever it was going, or reenter the world of the householder and earn a living. Either get really serious or admit that, nope, I wasn’t brave enough to really follow yoga.

    I stopped teaching full-time. I fortunately got back to another love and work as a handyman. I still get the benefit of independent contracting, setting my own hours, staying away from a corporate job, doing my own marketing, sales, admin, compliance and the joy of helping people, fixing problems as well as what I regard as being well paid. I still teach one ‘fitness’ yoga class a week because I really enjoy it.

    I’ve brought a lot of change to people through teaching them yoga. I’ve also brought peace and harmony by fixing their houses.

    My experience led me to realize that yoga is a terrific personal practice. Teaching is to others is beneficial and generous. But I was doing no one any favor by underearning. (BTW, I learned valuable lessons about this from Debtors Anonymous.) I’m now in my 50s and realize that no one out there is going to pay my bills when I get older. I decided I’d better get serious about putting something aside for my future. The benefits of asana will keep me healthy but I owe it to others not to become a financial burden on them.

    I’d like to suggest that 90 percent of full-time teachers should just quit trying to earn a living from it. Practice it, certainly. Teach it, absolutely. But if you want to make a living from it, follow the tradition of Desikachar and Krishnamacharya. Get away from group fitness, charge $150/hour and be a yoga doctor. And if you already own a studio, convert the teacher trainings into ‘life trainings’ so students can focus on Patanjali’s other 192 yoga sutras.

    • Michelle Marchildon on June 9, 2014 at 4:23 pm

      Amen John. Well said. You are probably more yogic by serving and taking care of people’s homes than you know.

  48. Traci Wallace on June 9, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Super sad to read this. The Yoga Rocks the Park team are lovingly investing so much of their time (and money) to bring communities together throughout the U.S. and whole-heartedly believes in our collaborative mission to spread the practice of yoga and bring communities together. They also bring a lot of new people to yoga and work throughout the year collaborating with studios and students to support them in finding the perfect studio for them… coming together with 1200 community members is something that you cannot do at a yoga studio… this is powerful and is a place where magic and real change can take place.

    Your comment, “And even though those events often donate 10% to charity, that’s a pittance compared to what they make.” Is simply false.

    It’s easy to compete… It’s easy to get wrapped up in the “it’s business” mentality. However, it’s collaboration—which takes care, love and patience to figure out how to collectively work together—that will ultimately create real change, while we elevate each other. That is bringing yoga into business. We should all keep this in mind.

    Let’s stay yogic… it’s union that we are looking to create. We can’t do it alone, or even worse, when we try to bring each other down.

    Warmly,
    Traci

    I invite you to contact me directly if you are interested in the real story about YRP. I trust you will feel differently than you do now.

    • Michelle Marchildon on June 9, 2014 at 4:19 pm

      Thank you Traci. I don’t have anything against YRTP. I think overall, you bring yoga to many new students. I’m just highlighting that it’s one of many, many ways to practice yoga inexpensively and outside of the studios. If you want me to retract my statement that you give 10% to charity, which does not measure to being a great deal of INCOME (not net), then by all means, bring me your financials. I’d love to see them.

  49. Ravi Dykema on June 9, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    Great article Michelle.
    teachers and studios can distinguish themselves, I think, by undergoing in-depth study of broad-curriculum types of Yoga, See my May-June issue of Nexus http://www.nexuspub.com/. One interview is with Carin Gorrell, Editor in Chief of Yoga Journal. She says, “More than half (of respondents to a major survey of readers) are interested in spiritual wisdom and inner peace, and want us to include expert teachings on yoga philosophy and meditation techniques.”

    • Lori B. on June 11, 2014 at 6:04 am

      Well that is interesting (referencing YJ’s survey)! Why then do they post advanced (and often times dangerous) asana using model thin women(usually)? I’ve written to them until I’m blue in the face about this. I’ve pleaded with them to showcase Hindu art, or pictures of the masters and sages or “normal/physically challenged people doing a pose. In my opinion, YJ perpetuates yoga as asana. They have so little of yoga’s true philosophy in their magazine.

      I do hope the Editor in Chief is sincere and they will have more of yoga philosophy in future issues. My fingers and toes are crossed!

      • PS in NY on June 17, 2014 at 7:53 am

        I have no idea where anyone got the idea that teaching yoga is a lucrative profession. It’s like being an actor: A very few people at the top are making money, but the vast majority are earning nothing and barely even have the chance to practice their profession.

        I believe that schools of yoga with their cash-cow teacher trainings are creating their own vicious cycle. They make easy money off the thousands who think it might be a fun job to teach yoga, and then saturate the market with hoardes of barely-qualified (and sometimes completely unqualified) teachers. These have to compete for jobs with the masses of teacher trainees who graduated before them…and so on. And the jobs are fewer and fewer, and the pay gets worse and worse. Do I need to add that the quality of instruction continues to deteriorate? And saddest of all, these teachers and their students continue to lose touch with the understanding of what yoga really is.

        Right now, yoga is flavor-of-the-month. Sooner or later, there will be a new exercise fad that the masses will rush to participate in, leaving yoga behind. The teacher training graduates who never felt a true calling to teach will find something else to do. Yoga will find its own level again. But really? It’s never going to be a lucrative business. IMHO, it shouldn’t be looked on as a business or a product at all.

  50. Nasha Hester on June 10, 2014 at 4:26 am

    Everybody’s broke, yo.

  51. Professor Joseph Ensign on June 10, 2014 at 9:33 am

    I had to leave the teaching circuit in order to properly raise a family. When I lived and instructed in Chicago, I was teaching over 20 classes a week and still squeezing some time out of the day for an hour of practice for myself.

    I honestly liked it at the time… When I was single and had no child.

    Now, the reality of no benefits and little to no pay cannot fly. I was making great money with private clients and life coaching…also running an academy of living arts was also paying the bills.

    I got to a point when I was teaching others how to live a sustainable lifestyle, then i realized… I was not.

    I was eating all organic, growing a small garden in my back yard, composting, recycling, taking care of red Wiggler earth worms, donating free classes to the community, and gettin paid big bucks for rich people to tell me what to teach them.

    I had to stop… Or rather, I had to take a sabbatical. So I did.

    I quit. Teaching in Chicago that is.

    I took 2 years to travel and visit farms, lakes, rivers, glaciers, people , family and friends. Along the way, I led classes in the parks, did my own practice in the redwoods, enjoyed the essence of being free.

    I felt that I had lost the true essence of sustainability and had to reconnect with it.

    So, two years later ( and many blogs of travel and sustainable info) we are settled on a 60 acres property growing our food, respecting the land, composting, stewarding, homesteading… It’s beautiful.

    The irony is that I still have life coaching clients and online yoga clients that end up paying the bills.

    So, did I find a balance… Sure. Can you make a great living from yoga… Yes!

    Is there room for improvement and a more sacred approach to our practice, oh yes.

    We can appreciate and begin to enjoy paying top dollar for top instructors. Adopt a feeling of gratitude and donate what it feels for the class, instead of hoping into the next rock music based, 200 person class for $1.

    You get what you pay for. So, my advice is to stick to your yoga guns… Demand more from classes, charge top dollar to private clients, and do not settle for a watered down approach to you style.

    Personally, I got certified through Budokon, and the integrity of the system has built it to be sooo strong that it will be something I pass down to my son. It is the re imergence of the samurai spirt.

    Find a niche… Exploit your niche to the world… And maybe offer it for free once a month to the community. Become the best teacher, not the most famous. And strive for a practice that is deep on many levels, not just the hippie high life of smiling and chanting the whole day. I mean a life of service , of passion, of accepting challenge.

    Please do not get into yoga to become rich monetarily, you will squash the light from shining, eventually.

    Do it to do it… And be willing to pay more than a movie to invoke a feeling that can stay with you longer then two hours. Enjoy yourself, enjoy great teachers, and invest in your education and path towards finding out who you truly are.

    Love and gratitude.

    Professor Joe

    Budokon Academy of Living Arts (www.budokon.com)

    *i have posted a FREE class on our blog so that everyone can flow and find inspiration.

    http://www.nu-topia.com/5/post/2014/02/am-yoga-living-arts-the-foundation-practice-of-a-sustainable-samurai.html

  52. Anneke on June 10, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    I Love teaching and I do not want to compensate my love & passion for it, because of money. That’s why I always had another job too. That keeps the money stress away and let me just do what I love. I like that way…
    But I do agree: How can you not appreciate a great teacher more than just asking for discounts and stuff. Crazy! Its not a gym or ‘just another service’… It’s YOGA! Com’on. These teachings are priceless…

  53. rick miller on June 10, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Yoga, music ,art…..a small minority do quite well but most folks in these professions are po’ folks. I have been teaching yoga for 15 years and not having overhead makes the time spent teaching more remunerative.

    My classes are in three categories:
    CHARITY-less than $25/class; (these have a gym membership as additional compensation);
    PROFITABLE- $50- $125 per class; and
    GRANDPA- $40/class teaching 3-5 yr olds.

    Teaching yoga is great for the fully or semi-retired person. Turning 65 in August will finally give me western healthcare.

    One of the best things about teaching yoga is that your earnings are indeed authentic. Folks are in your class because they chose to spend their time that way. The rewards of being a community builder are priceless.

    Aparigraha goes with the territory…for now!

    Namaste!!

  54. Margaret K on June 10, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    My take is this: Most teachers are just not trained well enough and don’t have a natural ability to communicate. I think yoga can be a lucrative career, IF you have world class training and were born with the natural skill to communicate clearly and in your own voice. Most people don’t have this- let alone yoga teachers. Out of every 50 teachers you may find one or two that should be teaching. Maybe. That’s my take.

  55. Janice Varuna Soderholm on June 10, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    Hello Michelle,

    I have been singing this song for the last few years watching our yoga market here in Ottawa, Canada become saturated. Year after year almost all yoga studios offer teacher training and then where are the new teachers to teach?

    My philosphy is metta for ourselves first and how can you practice lovingkindness to yourself and under-value the teaching you have to offer?

    My company Yoga Travels takes yoginis and yogis to Bhutan for 13 day tours. A few people have suggested that our trips cost more than a trip to the Caribbean to practice yoga. I explain that on our trips into Bhutan you have an energetic and spiritual experience of practicing yoga, meditating with the monks in the monasteries and have the opportunity to experience my yoga teachings in a himalayan Buddhist Kingdom.” I know our product “Yoga & Bhutan” and we will not be sold short.

    My offering is my yoga/life teaching in an incredible space, Bhutan. I say offer the gift of yourself and stay true to your teaching and your self-worth. And if it is not possible to make a decent living teaching your yoga, then keep your practice and let go of anything that no longer serves you.

    The students who have questions and want to experience the transformational abilities of yoga will come to the teachers who live their yoga. If there are not enough students to pay the rent then yes another job may be necessary, however when a true student wants your teachings they will find you and always know the value of your teachings.

  56. aggeliki on June 11, 2014 at 4:21 am

    Thank you so much for putting this together it helps a lot to realise things and to know we are not alone. It’s global even in small studios

  57. Lori B. on June 11, 2014 at 5:30 am

    Thank you so much for this informative and honest piece on the state of Yoga. You are spot on!

    In my years teaching I’ve watched other studio’s flourish as they offer the latest newly branded yoga style to the hungry masses. Yoga has become not a way of life or a means to reach enlightenment, but a cool, hip thing to do. Most yoga classes offer asana only with only a sprinkling of yoga terms to sound legit enough. It is devoid of yoga’s deeper meaning. Sad that teaching yoga’s deeper meaning doesn’t pack classes!

    In the studio I teach and have been for over 7 years, I’ve never had packed classes. One by one they came. Some came and went, but those who stayed are loyal. They come several days a week not for a good exercise class, but to journey within, to heal, to uncover their true Self, to live in the moment. What we have done over the years is form a wonderful close knit community. A community that truly lives their yoga by giving back, unselfishly to those in need. I know that my students and the studio I teach at are not unique. There are others out there. And one by one we will overcome the obstacles that our society has created that blocks yoga’s true meaning from shining forth.

    The future of yoga IS in the West. We need to be much better stewards of this precious gift. Blogs and discussions like this are a wonderful beginning. As the Dalai Lama says so often, ” the way to overcome trying times, obstacles, etc., is through dialogue.”

    Again, thank you for such a great article. Namaste

  58. Scott Campbell on June 13, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    Just a couple of clues from the language of your text. If “yoga” is a broke ass business it’s probably not really yoga. And another one – “practicing mindfulness as an “industry” doesn’t strike me something that has much to do with yoga. Most of what passes for “yoga” is most just an exercise fad. A few might accidentally fall into yoga along the way perhaps. The industry will most likely morph into the next light, bright and exciting fashion. Yoga wasn’t revived by well-heeled Westerners – artificially flavored yoga commerce maybe. This too shall pass.

  59. Scott Campbell on June 13, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    Sorry but I have to say one more thing. Confusion reigns about the meaning, purpose, value and function of yoga. Your article did little to clear up the confusion. We don’t need studios for folks to read the Upanishads or the Gita. Space to meditate at the foot of your bed when you wake in the morning cost no one extra over what they must have to live. If one has the ineffable inkling that liberation is possible they will transform into a student and the teacher will appear. The idea that someone can take 200 or 500 YTT courses and think they are teaching Yoga is laughable most of the time. The sense of entitlement that so many of those that say, “I’ve spent thousands on classes and TT and now I deserve to cash in” is again, a bit of a joke. All that really needs to change is the understand on the part of individuals about what Yoga really is all about – and it’s not learning to put your leg behind your head.

  60. Mel Russo on June 16, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Hi Michelle,

    Great article. Thanks for being honest and setting a new tone for the Yoga world.

    We’ve been on the same page as you for a while, and have been trying to figure out our next move since we are, like many, a struggling Yoga studio in NYC.

    We just sent out an email to all of our students announcing that we will no longer be offering any discounts on classes. We quoted you in our letter : )

    We think our students will pay what yoga is worth. In any case, we’re no longer willing to be a part of the problem. Let’s see what happens!

    Check out the full letter to our community at the link below.

    http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Major-News-from-Yoga-High.html?soid=1101984419272&aid=JfXNeKGdmC8

    Thanks again for your article. We hope other teachers/studios take action.

    Cheers,
    Mel & Patricia
    Yoga High, NYC

    http://www.yogahighnyc.com/

    • Michelle Marchildon on June 17, 2014 at 7:15 am

      Wow. You are brave. I think the students who are loyal to your studio and teachers won’t care if they pay full price and it should encourage them to pay a monthly rate. You might lose the students who only practice where it’s free or inexpensive. Overall, you will gain integrity.

  61. Weekly News Round Up 6/16/14 | Charlotte Clews on June 17, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    […] Marchildon makes a good point about the irrational yoga teacher business model. Even the best teachers are not exempt from good business […]

  62. The Cost of Yoga, For What It’s Worth on June 17, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    […] “Why Yoga Is a Broke-Ass Business” an article from Michelle Marchildon being passed around the internets lately, tackles this very real conundrum and offers a few ways we can all share the wealth, with the number one suggestion being consumer consciousness. Realizing we’re not on our own here and that where and when we spend our dollars is how to keep each and everyone afloat. […]

  63. Jen on June 18, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Thanks for the article, Michelle.

    When I started teaching almost 11 years ago, I taught one weekly class for free (to my co-workers at a stressed out NGO), and another in exchange for a free climbing gym membership. I taught b/c I knew I was helping people and I felt very fulfilled by it. It was a great antidote to the energy at my job. It didn’t occur to me that anyone could make real money doing it. I didn’t know anyone that had even tried.

    Eventually I picked up some paying classes. It wasn’t until about 6 years later that I had a go of making it my “job.” I picked up a few more management responsibilities at my primary studio, and, somewhat unconsciously at first, I started regarding all the steps I was taking as “career development.” I got my 500hr and started offering workshops. I assisted TT, and now I co-teach portions of a TT. This was all very workable b/c I was also a new mom and I actually welcomed the extra bit of income while being able to design a schedule that gave me more time with my kid. In other words, I never could have done it on my own. My husband’s salary did the heavy lifting of our budget.

    What I noticed after a couple of years was that yoga had become “my job” and that I felt the same way about that job that I did about any other job. Even good jobs are a means to an end, not often the thing we really want to most be spending our time doing. On top of that, I started really caring about how many people were coming to my classes. My feelings of worthiness started to be measured against my attendance numbers and especially as compared to others. As I took on more responsibility at my home studio, I also discovered that yoga offices (aka studios) have the same kind of icky politics that any job has. The manager at one of the gyms I worked at started treating me like an expendable fast food employee. At 38, with a college degree form a prestigious university and formerly making 6 figures, that was a very low point (it was like that scene in Office Space where Jennifer Aniston is getting chewed out for her lack of bling). As the economy started tanking (and more yoga studios inexplicably kept opening only a few blocks away from my home studio), I started worrying about what other teachers were doing at other studios. I felt somewhat betrayed by people who were offering similar things as me. And all the while I’m trying to show up and be authentic, but inside I was really unhappy.

    Then I started up another multiyear training program b/c in addition to being really inspired by the teacher (something that hadn’t happened in awhile), I was looking for ways to further differentiate my teaching (you know b/c money and class sizes and the possibility of unique(r) workshop offerings). Thank god for amazing teachers b/c on the first day of her training module, I had a major awakening prompted by a question she had us journal and reflect upon in pairs. It’s been almost three years that I have been slowly working my way through the outcomes of that exercise. Part of the major shifts are a result of your book, too. And actually it had nothing to do with the themes, but the exercises on going through one’s personally mission statement.

    The first thing I did was step away from studio management (that was the most acute source of anxiety). Then I started teaching fewer classes to win back my own personal practice on my terms, and to really refine what I really wanted to teach, not what I thought would win me the most students. I got really honest about my personal practice goals and how to align my teaching with that. I dropped several more classes recently, and made the decision to leave one particular studio who’s approach to yoga was making me feel like part to the problem. My whole practice and teaching has completely changed. I have definitely lost some students to this change, but I have gained new ones, more loyal ones and the times that people come up to me and thank me for what I’m offering has really gone up. Before I was offering a “yoga class” commodity, but now I think of what I do as really sharing a part of my personal journey in the hopes that others can benefit from my learned lessons (not just what some other teacher told me to say).

    That last thing I did was huge, and is the lesson of all of this. I went back to my first career part time (I’m super lucky that I found a part-time opportunity). I completely disconnect teaching yoga with earning a living. I still think about the money and the value of my time(and investment in my yoga education), but now I don’t feel desperate about it. All that stuff that I worried about (and that affected my teaching) has dissolved. And my classes are among the busiest at the (now) one studio where I teach.

    I’m becoming more and more convinced that none of us were meant to make money doing this work. Meditation teachers don’t – most of those guys have day jobs and when they retire they might start leading retreats (because free time, paid off houses and kids out of college). We have other conscious communities to look towards to see how to make this work so yoga is affordable, pays the rent and is fulfilling for its teachers.

    Peace,
    Jen

  64. Eric Stoneberg on June 18, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    One of my private clients, a fancy pants NYC bean counter for a major real estate conglomerate, told me that most of the big corporate yoga studios (the ones with reclaimed Balinese wood floors and bathroom sinks more expensive than any teacher earns in a given year) exist solely for the purpose of a corporate tax write off. I know, right? I feel like I need to repeat it. Some corporate yoga studios in NYC exist as tax write offs for the real estate holding companies who own them.

    After 13 years earning top dollar in NYC as a yoga teacher myself, with a base rate for privates that no one outside NYC would likely give over, it became painfully obvious that this profession will never pay for my son’s special needs. I was spiritually bypassing the reality of money for far too long. It’s one thing to forgo little luxuries for oneself as a yoga teacher, but when I couldn’t afford my son’s medical expenses I started to wake up. Big time. Thank you Michelle for spelling it out plainly with the cool voice of reality.

    Virayoga has been my home base for 13 years as a teacher. Thanks for that moment of silence. Elena has always been awesome at giving people a wake up call. This biz model – training teachers in order to pay your rent – is broken. Yoga teaching is simply not hard wired for financial abundance. Yoga pants are. (The yoga boutiques at luxury yoga chains are separate entities and NOT a write – off, they are profitable indeed.)

    So what’s a solution? I’m not sure but thanks for laying out some ideas. Groupon is demonic! And I know what I’m doing. And if what I describe appeals to anyone reading this come on over. I’d love to help more yogis out of poverty…

    I’ve found the path of Network Marketing to be an awesome Plan B. Not only do I get to continue teaching asana, ritual and meditation, I enjoy a flexible schedule I create and continue to live a life on my terms. Plus I get to help people (some who may have never darkened the door of a yoga studio) to get into optimal health. Different MLM companies have different products. My company happens to have a plant-based product that was invented as a natural solution to reverse type 2 diabetes. As America’s addiction to sugar is the #1 health crisis this is a pretty good time to get involved in a company that’s tackling that. And it turns out everyone does well when their glucose is well regulated, diabetic or not. My customers are losing weight, sleeping better, healing thyroid and autoimmune diseases, and having better sex lives! It’s epic. If you’re a struggling yoga teacher I strongly advise you to find a product you can get behind in this model and make it happen.

    I love my company because our compensation plan the closest thing to a Sri Yantra I’ve ever seen (A sri yantra in my understanding is a generative map of abundant relationships creating a reality of prosperity.) In other words, I get paid very well to keep helping people with products I believe in and use myself. Not every MLM has a great comp plan so you gotta do some research before diving in headfirst. I got into yoga to help people transform and evolve. I’m just doing it now in a way that’s way more transparent. And profitable. With a money back guarantee. That’s just great business. I double dog dare anyone to ask for their teacher training tuition back.

    Thanks so much for being so really real, Michele. I’ve admired your writing for such a long time! And thank you for giving me a chance to plug a biz model I think that could help a lot of yogis unplug from their poverty consciousness while maintaining their autonomy as part of a much bigger collective. There’s a ton of support and generosity in this biz model. Everyone’s gonna be doing something in this biz model in 15 years. Everyone. Which is what I said 15 years ago about yoga in NYC when there were like 3 studios on the map. If you’ve not visited Network Marketing as a viable career in a while, or have no idea what an MLM is, check out a book called The Flip Flop CEO.

  65. Melonie Nielsen on June 19, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    After 14 years of owning a studio here is my perspective:

    1)Take a teacher training program for personal development 1st and foremost.
    2) Teach because you love it and money can’t give you that.
    3) If you are making around $30,000 a year i would say you are on the high end of what most yoga teachers make and chances are you are a studio owner. If you are making over this you are probably one of the handful of top traveling teachers.
    4) Diversify your income and plan on paying your rent through another medium. I for instance make my paycheck from bodywork and the yoga money goes back into the studio.
    5) I don’t see a lot of competition, what i see is a lot of minimally trained people out there offering a ton of yoga. I see yoga moving away from a mindfulness based practice of increasing awareness to the next fad which might as well be called yogacise. We have taken something that has a lot of depth to it to the masses which is great, but at the same time we are dumbing down our yoga to meet the masses instead of using the yoga to elevate the masses.

  66. Yoga is not a competition | Monica Pirani on June 20, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    […] by “The Cost of Yoga For What It’s Worth” by Holly Penny and ‘Why Yoga is a Broke-A** Business” by Michelle […]

  67. AL on June 22, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    Michelle, great article. My observation as a 20-ish year NYC based yogi is that this has all been true for a long time.

    When I trained with Amy Ippoliti, we had a lot of “don’t quit your day job” discussions in our TT group. This was in 2003.

    The business of running a yoga studio (which I’ve also done) is incredibly difficult, and low margin. And even when you’re a very good business person, there are limits to what you can tweak to manage the essential “energy exchange” of cash in, rent paid, teachers paid.

    Back in the early 00s, we watched teachers who weren’t business people open new studios a few blocks from existing yoga businesses, at the same time that the gyms were expanding their offerings.

    No amount of “abundance thinking” changes a neighborhood’s population. When you disregard the location of other similar businesses and open up another studio nearby, you’re splitting a finite number of students, aka the paying customers that will contribute to your ability to pay rent and employees. You weaken an existing business, and you set yourself up on a shaky foundation.

    And yet this dynamic continues here in NYC, arguably one of the most saturated yoga markets in the country. Even with fine studios like Vira and Om closing, people keep opening new studios…

    It’s good to see open discussion about this. Thank you.

    (And today, as in 2003, if you’re thinking about teaching, don’t quit your day job.)

    • Michelle Marchildon on June 23, 2014 at 6:25 am

      I trained with Amy Ippoliti too, and yes, I agree, no amount of abundance thinking will overcome a weak economy. I think that is probably the biggest difference between 2003 and 2014.

  68. […] Seattle is home to world-class yoga instructors and studios that seem as numerous as Starbucks coffee shops. The yoga practitioner who lives in Seattle is lucky indeed. Yet many yoga teachers and studios are struggling to make ends meet. Local yogi and Seattle Arts Founder Denise Benitez touched on this topic recently in an article that has been shared across the country. […]

  69. Eric on June 26, 2014 at 9:24 am

    This article should instead be tilted “Why Yoga ASANA Classes Are A Broke A– Business”

    Yoga teachers (and I am one) continue to make the mistaken assertion that asana practice is a spiritual experience. Asana classes are simply exercise classes. Asana is a small tool on the yogic path often not even included in the practice of many esteemed yogis.
    In India, asana classes are not spiritual whatsoever. Just like in China, acupuncture treatments don’t include candles, aromatherapy, and the like. Westerners have turned these practices into New Age nonsense.

    The moment that yoga studios entered the business world, they self-embarked into the world of free market enterprise and competitive advantage. Why should yoga studios band together at all? Why don’t all coffee shops band together? What is the difference?

    You hit the nail on the head when you said that yoga was never meant to be a business. That’s the bottom line.

  70. […] You may have heard the news that yogalebrity (and Gather friend) Elena Brower will be closing the doors of Virayoga studio in New York at the end of the month. The reason? After more than 12 years of operation, the studio is no longer financially viable. Related news and opinion on the internetosphere in recent days: there are lots of things you don’t know about your yoga teacher (things like he or she most quite likely makes less than $30,000 USD a year), and, generally speaking, yoga is a broke-a** business (so says Michelle Marchildon). […]

  71. J. Brown on July 3, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    A little late to the party here but am always on board for a discussion on the viability of yoga as a profession. I made my living as a self-employed teacher for over a decade, through the boom times of the nineties and early 2000’s, before I opened a center 8 years ago. (For whatever its worth, I used Groupon effectively while it lasted. You just have to insist upon on the “new students only” clause and be smart about pricing the cards as loss leaders. We had great student retention. But that model is now dead as their lists are completely expended. We do offer $9 community classes five days a week and reduced rates for seniors)

    All that I might add is that it is possible to make a modest living teaching yoga, if you consider $25,000-$40,000 a living. Studio owners do stand to make a little more if they keep teaching, run a training, and travel for the decent gigs. I definitely agree that if you are looking to make a lot of money then you probably want to find another profession. And the changed economy and mass marketing of yoga has definitely made it more difficult.

    In my experience, the people who are making a living at it are doing so because they have been able to stick around long enough to really bring weight to their teaching and establish the relationships and know how to make it work. A sustainable teaching practice needs to be grown over time and not everyone is afforded situations that allow for it.

    I agree that being smart with where we spend our yoga dollars and supporting independent centers is a useful suggestion. As the circuit of larger venues and festivals has begun to lost its market force, the local scenes are really where its at. And the issue’s around poor quality teachers tend to be more a result of cookie cutter programs created under corporate structures than the heartfelt exchanges that take place between independent teachers and their neighborhood people.

    Things are changing. But there is still demand for yoga.

    And to Elena’s “know your worth”, I would add “CREATE AND OWN YOUR OWN CONTENT.” Its fine to teach classes for no money but putting up full length video on youtube or handing over ownership of video footage of your teaching to others when the technology exists to do it yourself is not worth it.

    For more on the business of yoga:

    http://www.jbrownyoga.com/blog/2012/11/on-merits-of-not-for-profit-yoga

  72. […] “Why yoga is a broke A- – business” the author writes:  “I want to end with this: We teach mindfulness to our students but the truth […]

  73. Juliette on July 20, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    Thanks for writing this post. It is important that a yogi as popular as you are in this area make these statements about the yoga biz and what may be done to solve the issues of being broke in Yoga. I think it is right to say that poverty consciousness is there and we do have to change that conversation in our minds – however it won’t change that good yoga teachers are leaving studios and studios are just plain leaving. We are left with the Pod, Core power and yoga works or whatever it is called. Corporate yoga is here to stay because it works with a franchise, KFC style of business. I see broke as two things. The first already mentioned -teachers feeling broke but happy about teaching and helping the community. The second is pure heart broken. You mentioned that it is heart breaking to see the fall of small studios everywhere. I stopped teaching in June after 11 years – I am at the point where I am grieving the loss of how it used to be in this business. Studios were still thriving and people could afford to do yoga. It is now $18 for a drop in for a 1 hr class in a hot studio. That doesn’t include lunch, a mat, a towel or water. I think that yoga as we know it (well since 2000 at least) has reached it maximum tipping point – it has reached ultimate saturation. Sure there still are those warriors that post gorgeous photos of themselves on cliffs in Santorini in backbends or in Paris doing handstands in front of the Eiffel tower. But it actually looks like a circus now. Even the yoga fashion looks like Barnum and Bailey designed pants with bright colors and big swirls. It is sad for a gal like me who knows I helped others, I showed up and did it out of well, pure love. This small business of yoga is over and we are moving into a new place. I don’t know what that means except without yoga I am lost and hardly connected as I once was when I could go to a class without the attitude and fear of being hurt by an inexperienced teacher. My trust of others in the industry has faded and boiled down to yogis desperately trying to promote themselves with great quotes on FB, filtered photos on instagram really trying but all they are really doing is selling themselves. Never in my life have i felt I absolutely would rather not go to a yoga class as much as I do now. Yes it is heart breaking and what I would do for a good pure hearted yoga teacher. Where are these pure teachers now?? (please don’t say, you are your own teacher honey). Thanks.

    • Michelle Marchildon on July 21, 2014 at 6:02 am

      So well said, Juliette. Broke-ass and Heart-Broke too. Thank you.

      • RGZ on April 29, 2015 at 9:19 pm

        sadly I agree 🙁

  74. […] reading Denise Benitez’s article about things you do not know about your yoga teacher and Michelle Marchildon’s article about why yoga is a broke business. But what I have enjoyed the most is the discussion through the many comments from yoga teachers […]

  75. Michele on August 12, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    Is it possible, that the problem with yoga teachers not making enough income or yoga studios not surviving – is not “someone else’s fault” but simply a statistically, a lot of people who know yoga but who do not know business?
    Everyone is talking about how many people in a class, figuring out per hour fee, enjoying or envy at a yoga “trendy” lifestyle and certifications.. no one is talking about their ability to build rapport, make their classes interesting and engaging and understanding how to market and retain customers…. is it possible, that we are just in a space where we think the certification gives us a business model and it’s simply just an elementary ability to teach a class rather than build an empire?

    In any line of work, from restaurants to retail shops to yoga – there is going to be success/failure rates and they are based often on a business model and business savvy- not finger pointing.

    I can’t believe I’m hearing people upset over free classes – the classes in a retail store are a bit different than in a studio and even FIVE or TEN “free” festivals a year in ONE location should not make or break a studio… these things should not be threats.

    That’s like saying the food networking shows people making recipes so all magazines and books can point to the food network for their failure. No way.

    I think we should be more accountable – if our “business” is failing it is a “business” problem not a “yoga” problem.

    • Bridgette on August 18, 2014 at 5:33 pm

      Amen, Michele. The author’s platitudes such as “be mindful and aware of our actions” appear to shift blame onto others for their supposed “thoughtlessness”; i.e., possessing business savvy and working hard. She informs us that she is “moderately famous”, but moderate fame and $22 will buy you a drop-in yoga class.

      Truly successful people know to work hard, be humble, learn from one’s mistakes, don’t blame others for one’s failures, and share with others the credit for one’s successes. I don’t think the author shares this viewpoint.

  76. Rick Morgan on September 10, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    I am sorry if this has already been stated but I wasn’t going to look through ALL the responses. I am a businessman in various alternative health care practices and I can tell you that there is no reason why an urban/suburban studio shouldn’t be profitable enough to be able to offer full time teachers a $40K annual income plus insurance if they run their studios like a business. If a studio is open full time, 7 days a week offering consistent classes that are convenient and of high quality while keeping costs under control it is very doable. The problem is the vast majority of studios are not run well and therefor not profitable. Example: you offer a beginner class on Monday 8am, thursday 112 pm and saturday at 5pm. WHO has that kind of flexibility in their schedules to make even 2 out of the 3? At best you can get them in for 1 or 2. We all believe yoga should be done daily- why limit class availability? Look to the Bikram model- they offer constant classes all day and most of their students go 3-5 times a week. It is a lot cheeper to have repeat students then market for new ones. I can go on and on about how badly most studios are run. Run a good business, take care of your employees then both the teachers AND the owners will make a living.

  77. Yogaconferenceplanner on September 29, 2014 at 8:22 am

    As a yoga conference planner, I would encourage yogis to think about attending locally grown yoga conferences and festivals instead of the multi million dollar machine Wanderlust, Yoga Journal and Yoga Rocks the Park events that focus on making money for themselves and the well paid national headlining teachers (trust me, these teachers are making $$$). Not that there is anything wrong with supporting capitalism but I can say the smaller community grown conferences and often do a better job at supporting the local community and providing a better experience for attendees as they look at more than just the bottom line. I can say for my event, I pay all teachers, including local presenters, and focus greatly on providing a warm, accepting and friendly environment for all attendees. I have attended the “chain” events listed above and received very poor customer service at each event. It is also nice to be able to provide a platform for local teachers to have a voice in the yoga community at a larger scale. They may not have the “branding” that supports a large following but there are plenty of local teachers (at least in my area) that have been studying and practicing for 20-30 years and can offer amazing insights into the practice. So, in addition to supporting local yoga studios, please consider supporting local yoga events, too!

    • Michelle Marchildon on September 29, 2014 at 8:40 am

      Yes! I am a local teacher, and proud of it. I stay local because I am interested in growing my students’ practices, and raising my family. Local teachers have much to offer and shouldn’t be sidelined by the national festival scene. That’s my opinion too.

  78. […] On my original blog, “Why Yoga is a Broke-A**Business,” one yogi wrote in to say that as a result of the severe competition for students, other teachers were always stealing her sequences. Let me get you a box of tissues sister. […]

  79. […] there’s evidence out there that’s not the reality of most of us yoga teachers at studios, fitness centers, and in […]

  80. RGZ on April 29, 2015 at 9:16 pm

    I so agree! I am at that point now wherein I keep telling myself “I teach to inspire others to help spread yoga” but at the back of my head I can’t help but think SHIT, I make only about 10$ a class, as low as 1-2$ per head (that’s the going rate in my country), I have so much bills and 2 kids to raise. You giving me a dose of reality that teaching will just NOT pay my bills, will not pay my kids’ tuition fees and everything, makes me realise that you are right! My duty and dharma to my kids is to raise them and provide for them, but how can I though teaching? I have a job too, but teaching fulfils me but I always end up aware of how small teaching gets paid here in my country. I love learning and would love to attend workshops and more trainings, but those drain my hard earned money from teaching. Sometimes as soon as I get paid for a week of classes, the cash just flies out for one dinner night out with my kids (movie, popcorn and dinner. Gas. Parking fees….) Anyway, I am also ranting because I hate the mentality of my country to make things CHEAP so people will come. There is always some kind of promo and I’m with you on blah blah blah because the studios control the industry and they like to make things cheap and discounted and here yoga teachers are like glorified gym teachers. I dunno. BUT when they host workshops it’s so damn expensive!

  81. Positive thinking | Wild Yoga on May 26, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    […] Ahttps://www.michellemarchildon.com/why-yoga-is-a-broke-a-business/ […]

  82. […] All of which brings me to the yoga studio. With cheap classes and abundant yoga opportunities, not a…Some are struggling to pay the rent. This is a very competitive business. Some say this has forced the industry into offering discounted classes. […]

  83. Elan on June 23, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    DO WE NEED YOGA? (Research Article is written by Dr Srinivas Kakkilaya – Consultant and Physician at Spandana Centre for Metabolic Medicine – Studied MD at Karnataka Medical College, Hubli)

    If you are a yoga enthusiast, it may be worthwhile asking the following questions
    With so many varieties of yoga being promoted today, each one claiming to be superior and pure, do they have any semblance to the yoga that was practiced in ancient India?
    Has the therapeutic or preventive efficacy of yoga in any of the states of human health and disease been conclusively proven?
    Is the practice of yoga totally safe?
    Yoga, in its myriad forms, seems to be everywhere. It is being made out that yoga has a very wide presence and acceptance, from Health columns in newspapers to dedicated TV channels, from India to the US, from children to the elderly. The contributions of ancient Indian civilisation to science, mathematics and philosophy are passe; yoga is being branded as India’s greatest contribution ever to humanity. And yoga has opened up great business opportunities for many. While some have opened up exclusive, ‘patented’, yoga schools in corporate style, some others, savvier and adept in feeling the ‘pulse of the masses’, have metamorphosed into big time Poojya Jagadgurus (with the prefixes of Baba or Sri Sri or His Holiness by hijacking and renaming one or two methods of yoga practice. Not to be left behind, the Governments in India, in several states and even at the Centre, have decided to introduce yoga as a compulsory curriculum in physical training, right from the first standard. And the Hindutva Brigade, ever so eager to garner publicity from anything anciently Indian, has usurped yoga into its folds and posits itself at the vanguard of promoting yoga; any skepticism about yoga is branded by these forces as anti RSS, anti BJP, anti Hinduism, anti Indian and even anti national and unpatriotic.
    But is the practice of yoga beneficial and necessary? Is it safe?
    What is Yoga?
    Please continue read this interesting article in this link:
    http://nirmukta.com/2009/01/24/do-we-need-yoga/

    • Vijay on April 26, 2016 at 6:28 am

      Very well written, please continue to eat the proven lean beef for protein (Check for cancer and meat intake). Or proven milk for calcium (Check for hip fracture and milk intake), and proven beer / wine for anti oxidants.

      Most people continue to do yoga as it helps them in some way or other. I know what good yoga have done to me, nothing to prove – just practice and enjoy the benefits.

      Its just like running, for outsiders it looks like crazy / stupid thing. For runners they know what it is.

  84. Stephen on August 17, 2015 at 10:51 pm

    Yoga may rooted from India where they were teaching under the trees. Most really “free” services I knew only survives a year or two in modern cities. Take a look at music school industries. They are money machine studios. Loyal good piano teachers with good studio facility is a combo why they are survives. There are no price competition between studios. Some students may prefer the low prices studio as they might think that they will get the beginner level and maybe just want to try themself if piano fits their mind. Some students prefer the higher prices as they knew what they will get.

    So why yoga studios that mostly promote “no-competition” in nature of yoga, actually doing a competition and crashing each other meanwhile the music studios doing well without competition ?

    A yoga business conference might benefit all of us.

    Namaste

  85. Jon on October 1, 2015 at 1:10 am

    I love the article. The yoga business model is a broken model. Yoga teachers are taken advantage of by studios with few if any benefits. Yoga teachers get no vacation pay, maternity pay, sick pay, rarely do they get health insurance, have no job security, no annual raise, no Christmas bonus, and work odd hours. When teachers begin to see what they do as a business and a profession rather than as a service to be given away for free then things will change. When yoga teachers begin to unionize, like all other professions, they will begin to get some of their lost power back.
    Economically, yoga is stuck in the dark ages. Twenty years ago a yoga student might be paying $15-18 per class. That fee is either the same after twenty years or many times much less. Students expect yoga to be given away for free when if fact they should be paying much more for a class so a teacher can make a decent living. For instance, when you follow the laws of inflation, home prices and the price of a gallon of gas have risen nearly 300% in the last twenty years. Under those same conditions, students in today’s age should be expected to be paying $30-$40 per class. Some say that students would not pay that. Look at the money people are spending on cell phones and cable tv. Change the business model. Make yoga important and not something cheapened because gyms give it away for free.

    • Stacy on March 29, 2016 at 1:43 pm

      Jon Burras, I own a yoga studio and know for a fact students will not pay $30 or $40 per class. Some studios charge only a little bit more than this for a monthly membership. Yoga teachers have never been employees until some studios like YogaWorks where you teach have started to do. Yoga teachers are usually independent contractors, so you are essentially running your own business in which you are not tied to a single studio and are free to work wherever you want. I take money out of my own pocket to pay for my own insurance and other benefits, so you should save your money and do the same. If you think I am wrong, definitely open your own studio and charge whatever you like and give your teachers full benefits. That way you will have a better understanding of the business of yoga.

  86. Susi Tilley on March 31, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    This is why I got a “job” and quit the industry. All summed up…

  87. Sebastian on April 1, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    The reason why “Yoga is a broke a** business” as you put it is simple. Because the majority of the yoga teachers don’t really understand business or marketing. And every teacher training teaches the same business class.

    How could stand out if you are doing the same thing as everyone else???

    Think niches, create a strong social media presence, create a brand that’s engaging, and really understand your customers/students/market.

    STOP DOING THE SAME THING AS EVERY YOGA STUDIO/TEACHER!

    You can make a good life in this industry but you just have to think outside the box.

    • Michelle Marchildon on April 1, 2016 at 7:39 pm

      I might add, stop stealing from other teachers, stop copying from other teachers, stop being a parrot of other teachers. Come up with your own interpretation and you will have a shot at being successful.

      • Vijay on April 26, 2016 at 6:22 am

        Pretty much everything is based on couple of ancient texts in India, not many like the idea of doing it in a hot room / cold room / hanging from rope ….

  88. Vijay on April 26, 2016 at 6:21 am

    Being a yoga teacher is like being a running coach, not every one go to a running coach. With youtube / social media and books lot of people do some self practice and go to a studio only when they want to improve or get more serious about it.

    Also not every one can become a running coach !! trying to make money be opening yoga studios is not going to help, unless you are a celebrity and live in a posh area. The best part of yoga is it can be done any where once you learn. You dont have to go anywhere.

    I learnt it years back, just some 30 to 40 postures and now I’m adding advanced variants to it, trying more postures as my flexibility improves. All at comfort of my home.

    You need to be a celebrity to make money out of yoga, at least thats how it works in India. Most of the schools teach basic asana postures to school kids. You dont see that many yoga studios in India. When I went for a 100 Hrs yoga course in India 80% of the class were from europe, no wonder west is keeping yoga alive in India !!

  89. Elle on January 6, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    Yoga used to be better paying than most group exercise formats but because of many of the reasons mentioned already the pay now has settled at around the same rate per hour as jazzercise/zumba etc. I also think because teachers value their work they have an implicit assumption that they should be well paid. But market demands determine value and pay rate not personal sentiments- things come and go and the pay follow trends until the market is saturated and there is a glut of both teachers and formats. Right now there is a resurgence of boot camp/crossfit light gyms that are charging $30.00 per person per class- but in a matter of time that will also get saturated etc. and the pay rates will reduce there as well…

    I also think that yoga instructors now over-value their offerings. Most instructors can get trained to teach some form of “vinyasa yoga” rather easily for very little money- which if you learn the basic script can be taught with your eyes closed and requires little to no creativity. This is uninspiring to many practitioners over time and they get bored and leave so studio owners have to constantly recruit and sell to maintain memberships or make their income only from teacher trainings, workshops or retail. If students know they can take the same standard issue vinyasa flow class for free at their gym where they pay $40 per month why would they take it at a studio? Brick and mortar studios are out and not coming back – its just too easy to get it for free and yoga taught in yoga studios isn’t all that different or better than the local ymca or basic gym yoga so I think the likelihood that previous pay levels will return is low except for the exceptionally unique teacher. But there are always exceptionally unique folks doing all sorts of jobs and they are the rare person that gets handsomely rewarded for it. But the exception shouldn’t be assumed to be the rule. The online yoga studio phenomena will not make things better for yoga instructors either- it will just make yoga cheaper…

  90. Monique Fitzgerald on September 11, 2017 at 9:03 pm

    Wowwwwwwwwwwww so many comments…I almost was about to skip writing one, but like you say in the article. “Almost.” I feel every inch of what you’re saying here. But I believe everyone is drawn to there certain yogis and are inspired by those people. I have only gone to three workshops and purchase two online classes from the same yogi. She in a sense called me to this and I am so glad she started her journey so that I could start mine. I pay more in travel to attend her class than the actual class and it’s all good. I will continue to do so…I try not to purchase too many items. Right now I’m in search of a really good eco friendly yoga mat because mine is literally beat up right now and I have a yoga workshop to attend this weekend and yes with the same yogi! Which is how I came to this article but long story short I was drawn to write this because I just wish and hope we can leave all the capitalist ties out of everything. I would love to run a free yoga by the bay session all summer long. Our society literally needs more free healing. So I don’t think that’s wrong. I would rather see my yogi instructor than a doctor. In all I don’t know the answer or if there needs to be one other than dismantling the capitalism economic structure that creates these toxic situations where you have to literally, need to fight with yourself on whether paying a yogi instructor what he/she/they are worth over receiving a healing session that everyone deserves regardless if they can pay is a thing.

    • Michelle Marchildon on September 12, 2017 at 5:58 am

      Hi Monique. Thank you for your thoughts. I just want to clarify if I was unclear: I think it’s great that you follow your yoga teacher. I have followed my teachers to the ends of the Earth (or at least to several states and on retreats). Love is a good and powerful thing. Meanwhile, I use the Manduka mats. My everyday mat is the Pro — but it’s a beast, heavy and hard to roll. So I also have a Pro-Lite. That mat is wonderful, a bit lighter, easy to roll and grippy. However, it’s a few inches smaller. I don’t know if they are “eco” mats, but I have used mine for nearly 10 years and they are not in a landfill, so that’s eco-enough for me.
      Love,
      Michelle

  91. Sara on September 21, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    Hooray for the teachers and studios that have adeptly navigated the changing environment of offering yoga classes. Survival probably depends more on flexibility and adaptability, an awareness of the ongoing changes. In 2001, when I began my initial Yoga Teacher Training, the advice given, “Don’t give up your day job unless you have another source of income such as a supportive spouse or parents who are able and willing to underwrite the early years of teaching.” Sage advice. It was also recommended that we enter into an initial teacher training to deepen our practices. Looking back, how many of us were truly qualified to be teaching after an initial 200 hour program? When I moved to Madison, WI in 2007, there were 2 teacher trainings in the entire state! As of 2017, there are no less than 6 teacher trainings in the city of Madison, alone! On a certain level, it’s pure economics, a numbers game, there are not enough folks practicing yoga to support the numbers of new teachers being graduated each year. Dear friends at MindBody in 2007 also suggested that the only sustainable prototype for a yoga studio was one with no less than 2 studios in order to maximize classes and offer alternatives if classes were full. The information and research has been available to the industry for over a decade. Because rent is due regardless of studio usage, how have studio owners maximized revenue 24/7?

    Like any industry that has grown too quickly, a reordering is happening. Some teachers will adapt and others will move on to venues that work for their personal situation. It is the nature of life. But being willing to objectively look at markets and assess one’s position is key. And isn’t that what yoga professes, to deepen our awareness and to practice honesty, starting with ourselves.

    Marrying the priceless, pragmatic and practical teachings with Western capitalism has resulted in much good and of course some shattered dreams. It has been an intense lesson for many well intended and dedicated souls.

  92. Liz Faller on September 28, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    Thanks for your provocative article. I’ve been practicing yoga since the 70s when Iyengar was the only yoga in Seattle, Wa. It was rare then to consider making a living teaching. Many teachers and students later, I appreciate your comment about it may not be your dharma. And if it is- your path will carry you. I teach small groups in my home now with occassional specialized workshops; it’s a sweet supplement to my practice and income. There is no way to control anything that is happening on our planet today. But every true teacher will keep showing up in a way that makes sense and is in balance with reality- and in gratitude to the incredible universal gift from our lineages. If we really consider the heart of yoga, wouldn’t we want it to be free for all? Why put financial expectation or need onto passing on all we have received? Why want an industry from it? Why would we stop trusting what is unfolding in this moment?

  93. Therese on September 28, 2017 at 7:09 pm

    Few –except big cities- knew anything about yoga when I studied in India 25 years ago and returned to share the teachings. Yoga has become a ‘brand’ which has bred a lot of confusion about yoga and made people a lot of money. Typically the west thinks it needs to step in and make a 4000 year old system ‘better’ by ‘standardizing’ it. From my limited view, the west teaches yogaize or yogaerobics –which has it’s place; can be fun and useful for people. But that isn’t yoga. Yoga is pranayama, not exercise. The ‘mind’ is the featured guest in a yoga class, not your hamstrings or your skin tight leotard. As a brand, yoga in the west is predominantly body-based, fueling rajas, the very imbalance yoga attempts to heal. The yoga that is a path to awakening is not an industry. Like prana, it cannot be contained, try as capitalism might try. To teach yoga in the east or west is a choice. My teacher, A.G. Mohan, sacrificed a great deal to follow the path of yoga with Krishnamacharya (as did Krishnmacharya). Beryl Bender Birch is a big girl and said yes over and over again to yoga. I said yes over and over again, raising 3 kids alone working in this field. My reasons for considering stepping out of continuing aren’t financial, but rather being exhausted by these kinds of conversations. My own teacher would never call himself a ‘yogi’ and yet I hear yoga teachers identify themselves as such. As Mohan said, “What I love about americans is that they are so enthusiastic and sincere. But they are also sincerely confused.’

  94. Doug on October 2, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    I love this the article was posted 3 years ago and continues to hold our attention. Yoga in the Western World, which now encompasses most of India has been going hand and hand with capitalism as an industry. I think those days are numbered. Industry and capitalism are failing us. It seems only natural that yoga using these models will fail as well. While it has brought yoga into the lives of so many people, a very good thing, maybe now is the time to look back at our roots. When people say it is their dharma, I think many are labeling it dharma for not wanting to sit behind a desk or drive a bus or work in a warehouse or whatever. Dharma when it works but not if it doesn’t work financially. Teaching yoga and making a living are not the same thing. How enticing it is to take a Teacher Training and quit that annoying job. If you are inspired to teach than teach. Teach in the park. Teach in your living room. If it’s your dharma, students will come to you. Give them everything you have. Do not expect this to support you financially. Especially if your dharma includes owning a i-phone, a nice car or a house. If you have something to share as a teacher, then share it. The studio system has given us a lot but it has also allowed for little or no commitment on the part of a student. Should I take a yoga class today or go shopping? Good teachers should now maybe be hard to find and require something more that $10 or $20 to find. Now that the industry has given so many an inkling of what yoga is, maybe it is time to struggle and truly discover what you are will to do to bring yoga into your life. If you want to succeed in a capitalist society, get a job, buy and sell real estate or whatever. if you want to commit to either studying or teaching yoga, then study or teach yoga.

  95. Jonathan on October 3, 2017 at 12:50 am

    I agree and love your straight forwardness about this subject. I owned a yoga studio for 11 years in a busy suburb and taught yoga for 15 years. As I watched 12 other studios pop up around mine over the 11 years I questioned the sustainability of a market so saturated. We were lucky and continued to have busy classes being the oldest studio with lots of loyal members. Many studios were having trouble finding 5-10 people to come to class. I also noticed another thing happening….yoga teachers en mass were working hard at beefing themselves up…more social media, more workshop offerings, more retreats….and more money for single classes. Everyone teaching wanted more, but with more competition of studios the studios themselves are not making more year over year.
    I noticed in my own area that the studios were pollinated by my own studio…opened by an ex teacher or student. Most people open studios because they think “oh boy…look at this cash cow” and they do stupid people math. “This place must make over a million a year!” Yeah, think again brainiac. So the next thing you know there are yoga studios all over the place because everyone wants to make an easy buck…and all of a sudden no one is making anything. Studios are offering Groupon deals, more workshops, class pass sales 4x a year and teacher treainings to keep the cash flow positive.
    The story is similar with yoga teachers and saturation in the market. Some of you can turn blue in the face while you rant about a chosen path, and helping people, etc but for a majority I call bull shit. Soon-to-be yoga teachers are having some type of internal crisis big or small, hate the rat race and see a booming industry where they can make a living walking around in bare feet teaching yoga and being their own boss. But they too don’t do the math and don’t understand fully the market and what they are up against. So like the studios, there is far too much competition, everyone wants more, everyone is offering a teacher training, a retreat, a new “form” of yoga, a workshop or whatever.
    Two things stimulated a certain type of critical thinking in me…one was a short lived stint as someone trying out a multi level marketing gig and the other was a logic class in university.
    As I watched everyone trying to offer the same thing I recognized how ungenuine and unsustainable it had all become. For
    That reason I never offered a teacher training or a retreat even with all of my experience. I just wanted my place to be somewhere a student could find their practice and urged people to practice on their own when they could.
    It seems backwards to the business model but we stayed strong and I finally sold my studio and got a real job that I love. I still teach little yoga on the side because I love teaching yoga.
    As I conclude I have to say this…with yoga studios trying to survive, yoga teachers trying to survive, the marketplace being saturated everywhere and everyone doing the same cookie cutter tricks to get ahead I don’t envy anyone navigating the business of yoga and I’m certainly happy I found my way out of it.

  96. Jeroglíficos uno on October 20, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    All you white girls and white people who under took yoga are being arrogant about the practice of yoga. You took an aspect of someone’s culture and complaining about making money off it. Fuck all you yuppies who gentrify where ever the fuck you go. You all feel entitled. How so happy that as an indigenous person I by nature do not age as fast as you do. So when do come to your senses you realize how shallow you really are.

  97. […] And then of course there are the comments, like this one left on my blog The Broke A** Business of Yoga: […]

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